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St. Mary’s emergency services and volunteers from Bay District and Second District fire and EMS departments retrieve the Bowes’ family dog, Delta, from a well off Point Lookout Road in Callaway on Tuesday morning. Delta “was checked out at the vet and is doing good,” Renata Bowes said on Wednesday.

Wishing you well

Piney Point man one of many Capitol insurrection arrests

An aircraft mechanic from Piney Point was arrested by federal agents on allegations he had been one of many intruders into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, in a deadly riot which briefly delayed the counting of electoral presidential votes.

Johnathan Andries, 35, was apprehended earlier this month following a tip from an individual who had recognized Andries from video coverage of the insurrection.

Andries did not respond to a call for comment on Tuesday.

Charging papers say a tipster contacted the FBI on Jan. 17 and said they had been watching news during the Capitol insurrection and recognized a suspect as Andries, who they had last seen about two years ago and knew through a mutual friend.

The witness told the FBI that Andries had served in the military and had multiple DUI arrests, which agents wrote they confirmed in charging papers.

The man who officials say is Andries is first seen in the footage accompanying a crowd which attempted to break down metal barriers to the Capitol building and proceeded to walk up the steps to the building, before he is later seen inside the building with other rioters, charging papers allege.

Additional surveillance footage shows him entering the building through a broken window, according to charging papers.

Days after the tip, an FBI agent performed surveillance on Andries and saw him carrying the brown jacket he is seen wearing in news coverage and surveillance of the riot, charging papers say. Another agent interviewed a St. Mary’s sheriff’s office deputy who had recently interacted with Andries, who identified him in surveillance photos.

Andries was arrested last week and charged with several federal entry and disorderly conduct in a restricted building charges, and was released on conditions that he advises pre-trial services before leaving Maryland, and does not enter Washington, D.C., except for meetings with his public defender, court hearings and doctors appointments at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center there, according to court filings.

He is also prohibited from possessing firearms, the filings say.

Twitter: @DanSoMdNews

Charlotte Hall pre-release prison likely to be closed

A small state correctional facility tucked away in Charlotte Hall, as well as its sister facility on the Eastern Shore, are set to close pending the approval of Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed budget, drawing the ire of the state employees’ union which represents most of the staff at the prisons.

The Southern Maryland Pre-Release Unit and its counterpart, the Eastern Pre-Release Unit in Queen Anne’s County, two of three state pre-release prisons which prepare inmates for their re-entry into society by acquainting them with jobs and skills training, were completely cut from Hogan’s fiscal 2022 budget, which is likely to pass with few changes.

The two institutions being cut will save the state $5 million, according to a budget document submitted by the governor’s office, which says a 25% decline in Maryland’s correctional population since Hogan (R) took office justifies the closure.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, attributed the decline to the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Act, and said it had diverted “low-risk, non-violent” offenders from incarceration, freeing up space at the pre-release units, which are minimal security institutes.

The state will also “see savings of $18 million due to declining overtime costs within” the state corrections department.

State inmates who are approved for the pre-release units spend the last parts of their sentence — anywhere between 18 months and 3 years — at the small, low-security penitentiaries, said Sgt. Eugenia Stepney, a correctional officer at the institution speaking on the behalf of AFSCME Council 3, the state employees union which represents most of the staff at the prison.

“I know it’s about numbers up the road,” Stepney said regarding the prison’s closure. “It shouldn’t be about the numbers, it should be about the community.”

Stepney, a Calvert resident, said the closure of the prison, which was established in 1962, will adversely affect staff, inmates and the communities they work in, as inmates provide public services as a part of their re-integration.

To adjust to society and potentially pick up permanent work on their way out, the pre-release inmates work a wide range of jobs while incarcerated. Those jobs may consist of roadside trash pickup in Charles, Calvert and Prince George’s counties; spatting oysters with the Department of Natural Resources; sought after private-sector work-release jobs; and, volunteer farming at Serenity Farm with Farming for Hunger, a project that grows and distributes fresh food to underserved communities.

“It’s been great working with them,” Bernie Fowler Jr., who runs the Calvert-based Farming for Hunger, said, adding that the state correctional agency has informed him he will continue to get support from the department in some form. “It’s meant a lot to all the men who are working out there.”

The farm has hosted about 116 inmates from the pre-release unit and the Calvert County Detention Center, which provided a small labor force during the farm’s first year in 2012. Inmates have produced about 10 million pounds of food there over the years, Fowler said.

“I think everyone is a victim to COVID, too,” Fowler said. “It’s playing a big part into the budget and the decisions that would have to be made.”

All inmates at the closing units will be transferred, and all staff at the prison are being relocated, Vernarelli said.

Besides the Southern Maryland unit, the closest state prisons to the region are located in Jessup, as well as the last dedicated pre-release unit.

Stepney said that is likely too far of a drive for some of the Southern Maryland unit’s current staff, who mostly live in the tri-county area or Virginia, and that some staff are contemplating retirement from the already understaffed corrections department due to the shift.

“They don’t want to make that drive,” she said.

Twitter: @DanSoMdNews

Jones appointed to House of Delegates

Rachel Jones has made history by earning the governor’s appointment to a vacancy in the Maryland House of Delegates for District 27-B, which covers parts of Calvert and Prince George’s counties. The appointment was announced Wednesday morning.

Jones, 36, an Owings resident and graduate of Calvert High School, becomes the first African American female from Calvert to represent the county in the state legislature.

“I am confident that Rachel Jones will be a strong advocate for constituents in Calvert and Prince George’s counties in her role as delegate,” Gov. Larry Hogan (R) stated in a press release.

“I am elated, I feel an overwhelming sense of joy,” Jones told Southern Maryland News.

Jones has worked as a field representative in Southern Maryland for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) since 2016. For three years prior to that she was on former Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s staff.

“It was an honor and privilege to work for both senators Cardin and Mikulski,” said Jones. “Now, I have a chance to advocate on my own behalf. I’m excited.”

The Calvert County Democratic Central Committee recommended Jones for appointment to the seat which became vacant after Michael A. Jackson was appointed District 27 senator. Jackson filled the vacancy created with the resignation of the late Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who resigned 23 days before he passed away at his Calvert County residence.

The Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee had submitted the name of Jacqueline Steele-McCall for consideration.

Jones told Southern Maryland News that Hogan’s appointments secretary called her with the news that she had been selected around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. Jones also spoke with Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and learned that her swearing in ceremony would take place Feb. 18 at 9:30 a.m. in the state house in Annapolis. As of Wednesday, Jones had not learned what her committee assignments would be.

In addition to working for two U.S. senators, Jones, who has a degree from Morgan State University, has worked as an associate consultant for the Federal Communications Commission and as a legislative aide to Nathaniel McFadden, a former state senator. Jones serves as the vice president for the Farming for Hunger board of directors.

“Her long experience in advocacy and public service has more than qualified her for this position, and we know she is ready to hit the ground running,” Calvert County Democratic Party officials said in a statement released shortly after Jones’ appointment was announced.

Twitter: @MartySoMdNews

centerpiece featured top story
Some teachers wary as students return to buildings
  • 5 min to read
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Students enjoy a socially distanced lunch at Chopticon High School in Morganza on Tuesday. Those in Headstart, pre-kindergarten, and grades 6, 9 and 12 returned to St. Mary’s public schools beginning Feb. 16 in a hybrid fashion.

With students and teachers in Southern Maryland beginning to make their way back into school buildings, some remain weary while significant COVID-19 cases are still present in local communities as well as within some schools.

St. Mary’s is the only county that provides the public a breakdown of positive cases per school each week on its website. Charles County provides a total number of staff and student cases by month, and Calvert County only offers vague data divided by region.

Over 100 school staff have tested positive for COVID-19 since August in St. Mary’s, where most teachers have been working in school buildings the entire school year. The county’s teachers union expressed discomfort from educators with having all students who have opted to participate in in-person instruction returning to buildings by March 1, even in a hybrid fashion.

Sarah Penrod, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County, shared with Southern Maryland News earlier this month that teachers have been handling the transition to online instruction “really, really well” since schools closed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’ve been working harder than ever before” and “making it work,” she said, as most had to take everything they knew about their jobs and change it around.

She claimed “there is not a single educator who doesn’t want to go back to school when it’s safe,” and noted “some are excited” but “some are scared” to return with virus metrics still trending high.

Teachers are “appreciative” they’ve been pushed to the front of the line to receive the COVID-19 vaccinations, she said, but there are still concerns of spreading the virus or “bringing it home” to family who may be more susceptible to severe illness.

At this point, most public school staff in St. Mary’s have had the opportunity to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Last week, St. Mary’s public schools’ Superintendent Scott Smith said he does not know the exact number of staff who have been vaccinated, as the school system is not entitled to that information, but original survey responses showed over 70% intended to do so.

He said so far employees have been following COVID-19 protocols inside schools, but if someone repeatedly disregarded the safety protocols, the school system would follow disciplinary procedures. He said the school system “exercises no authority” of how staff behave “beyond the workday or schoolhouse.”

Governor’s announcement ‘created chaos’

All Calvert public school students who chose to move forward with the hybrid model of instruction will be back in buildings by March 8.

In some ways, educators have been faring with 100% virtual instruction “a lot better than the public has perceived,” according to Dona Osteno, president of the Calvert Education Association.

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Rachael Sichko, Chopticon English teacher, teaches her class socially distanced classroom on Tuesday, with a camera recording her so students learning at home can connect on a live stream.

When Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and State Superintendent Karen Salmon called for all Maryland schools to reopen at some capacity by March 1, Osteno said it “created chaos.”

In January, the Calvert school board discussed how bad COVID-19 metrics were locally and made the decision to keep instruction all virtual indefinitely, and then one week later Hogan pushed school systems to open, she said.

The president noted how officials have said vaccinations should not drive reopen dates, but countered that “students can give [the virus] to their adults,” and COVID-19 can be spread through teachers and parents, as well.

“We thought we should wait until March 1 for just small groups [of students to return] but we couldn’t get the people in charge to agree with us,” Osteno said.

She said although vaccines have been offered to most educators, there are still some who haven’t gotten the chance to receive it. According to a survey done earlier this month, Osteno noted 86% of staff who responded said they intended to get both doses of the vaccine.

Last week, Daniel Curry, superintendent of Calvert public schools, said in cooperation with the county health department, they “were able to start with school staff in priority groupings in late December,” and “at this time our first two groups” out of seven have received their second vaccine. All other groups have had their first with approximately 100 left to go, including some recent hires, long-term subs and student teachers.

Throughout the pandemic, some staff have had COVID-19, but Osteno said for the most part they’ve been “pretty good” with protecting themselves inside and outside the school buildings. She mentioned there has been one outbreak in a staff lounge within one of the schools, which brings up the question of how to prevent the spread of the virus during lunchtime.

Osteno assured “Calvert has been pretty much on top” of providing personal protective equipment and other supplies to teachers, and although some are still concerned.

Charles delays reopening

In Charles County, over 200 staff members have tested positive, mostly since the Thanksgiving holiday. According to Linda McLaughlin, president of the Education Association of Charles County, the teachers she represent have been “working just as hard” as ever to provide a quality learning experience to their students. She commended the flexibility of the school system and teachers, while some worked from home and others from their classroom.

She said teachers really “would rather be in classrooms, building relationships” with their students, but they also want the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before returning to the buildings.

In a survey where 65% of teachers union members responded, McLaughlin said 70% did not feel safe returning to school buildings yet. And, 60% of respondents said they wanted the vaccine and those who said no had various reasons for the decision, such as other health concerns.

There is no consequence for refusing the vaccine but those staff members are held to the same expectations as those who do decide to get vaccinated.

According to school communications staff, as of Feb. 11, 2,400 staff members received their first dose, not including staff who received vaccines through other channels such as being included in Phase 1A due to a part time job, age or received doses through the hospital or pharmacies.

The rate at which staff are able to get vaccinated depends on availability, which is currently a state issue as some supply has been diverted to two state mass vaccination sites at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County and the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital. Last week the Charles school board voted not to return small groups of students back to the buildings until March 22, allowing for more time for educators to receive both doses of the vaccine.

Although, McLaughlin said, no one can control what teachers and other staff do at home, there has been virtually “no spread in school buildings, which tells me people are following protocols … [teacher’s union] members are very proactive, asking questions” and reporting any transgressions, which are then addressed.

The president said she has participated in some “safety walk-throughs” in some of the schools and she’s “really happy with steps being put into place for buildings and workspaces” to ensure a safe working environment for all involved.

James Ball, an art teacher and athletics coach as North Point High School in Charles, shared with Southern Maryland News this week that his experience with virtual instruction has “been great,” but he is excited to “get back to a somewhat normal schedule” when students return. The art teacher said he’s been teaching from his classroom since the beginning of the school year and pointed out he was nervous to be in the building at first, but became more comfortable after seeing how often service workers are cleaning.

“There are still some concerns out there. … We fear what we don’t know,” he said, adding once people see the safety protocols in place in action, their nerves may be eased a bit. He also mentioned teachers have learned a lot about technology through this whole process and in the end, their new skills will “enhance” what they have already been doing.

Twitter: @MadisonSoMdNews