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Sending Your Children Back to School This Fall in Wicomico County Maryland

As a Professor, computational physicist, reliability engineer, writer, and most especially, as a parent, I am involved in every aspect of my children's education. Having been a math and physics instructor in high school. My first responsibility as a teacher was safety and accountability of my students as if they were my own children. As parents, this is probably the most important factor in making decisions, which must be made under special circumstances. Today we face difficult times with the global outbreak of the Wuhan Virus (Covid-19). Since the outbreak of this pandemic, our government, communities, municipalities, and businesses have had to adapt to prevent the spread of the illness and reduce the disease-related mortality rate associated with this specific illness.

Public schools across the United States and the world shut down in response to this pandemic. Companies have shut down or reduced the capacity of their operations, small businesses have closed or have had to lay off workers. People have pretty much been sheltered at home in order to protect themselves and others from the virus. In Maryland, all public schools were closed initially from March 16, 2020 - March 27, 2020. Governor Hogan also recommended that Maryland private schools shut down as well. The Superintendent of Maryland schools, Karen Salmon, decided to extend school closure through April 24, 2020. Schools never reopened, and the Wicomico County Public School students finished the final term at home doing assignments via the Internet.

When schools shutdown in March, Wicomico County Superintendent of Schools, Donna Hanlin, and the Wicomico County Board of Education were solely focused on providing meals to in-need students who receive benefits due to their socioeconomic status. The balance of their efforts has been focused on maintaining the flow of food resources to its students in need. With over 15,000 students out of school, the challenge is undaunting. Every other aspect of school operation seemingly ceased to continue - no responses to information requests and no resolution of parent teacher issues. However, there remained a high priority in serving meals.

Trying to plan for the reopening of public school in Wicomico County is like trying to build something out of thin air. In fact, the common reference or descriptive phrase that I heard numerous times during the development for the Maryland Health Exchange under The Affordable Care Act from those who were tasked to implement it was that it was like building an airplane in midair. " Formulating a plan on how to continue teaching Wicomico County's 15,000 students has been like building an airplane while in flight," Superintendent Donna Hanlin said. 2

The National Center For Disease Control (CDC) has done all the heavy lifting in regard to the guidelines for school to consider when planning and implementing what to do and how to do it when reopening. How hard is it to make a decision once your choices have already been modeled? Schools can technically reopen without students physically attending school by enrolling them online for educational instruction. That is the safest way to protect students from exposure to Covid-19. The next scenario would be a hybrid model, which provides partial instruction in schools (every other day - for half day of instruction on each day) along with remote learning at home. The last consideration is reopening schools normally.

Reopening schools completely may result in increased infection rates and disease-specific mortality rates among our children. At a time when Covid-19 seems to be resurging, we must protect our children. Sending them to school part-time is also risky. They will be placed in a situation where social distancing is required, a mask will have to be worn throughout the day, students will need to wash or sanitize their hands multiple times throughout the day, and the entire school facility will have to be sanitized at the end of each day by school staff.

Some questions do come to mind. Will our students have their temperatures taken every morning at the entrance of the school? Will they be required to answer a standard clearance survey in order to enter the school on that day? What happens if one student gets infected, comes to school and infects other students? You would think the obvious response would be to shut the school down and quarantine the population of students exposed in accordance with CDC guidelines. Well the fact is, school districts do not want to shut down under these circumstances. Teachers unions nationwide oppose reopening schools on a hybrid model or reopening at a normal operation model. Everyone has a right to be safe. Where will the burden of liability fall if school districts do decide to reopen?

Somerset County Maryland has decided not to reopen schools. They will continue the fall term with remote learning, and the students will continue learning from home. What will the quality of education be like for those who are put in a remote learning curriculum in public school? Wicomico County Board of Education plans to use Google Classroom and Edmentum as the central platforms for delivering instruction. We don’t quite know how instructors will fully engage the students using these platforms.

With so many variables that could compromise both the health and quality of education of your child, at this stage I strongly recommend that you consider homeschooling your child this school year. One thing to keep in mind is that if schools do reopen, your child is still entitled to participate in extracurricular activities and vocational tech programs such as CTE, since you pay taxes for these the same as other parents do if you choose to homeschool.

By Vincent F. Shapanus, Cdr., U.S. Navy Retired, C.R.E., M.S., E.E., MA., ED.,

Senior Fellows and Editors of the Institute of Research & Development of Education (IRDE)

July 23, 2020, Copyright IRDE

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