Charles public school system is reporting school coronavirus cases daily on its website.
Superintendent Kim Hill sent a letter to parents, students and staff on Thursday explaining how reporting COVID-19 cases will work.
“We understand that the community is concerned about the number of cases that may occur in [Charles County public schools]. That is why we will post the total number of COVID-19 cases in CCPS on our website daily for awareness and transparency,” the letter stated.
The public can view the numbers at www.ccboe.com/index.php/road-to-reopening.
Katie O’Malley-Simpson, spokesperson for the school system, said the reporting will not specify which school has positive cases, which is no problem for Virginia McGraw, chair of the school board.
“For me, I’m satisfied with it being a system as a whole,” she said, adding that school communities will be notified if there was an outbreak.
McGraw said she always views the case numbers on the school system’s website. Before, the site updated its positive cases monthly. She applauded the system for its transparency.
Board member Elizabeth Brown said she was pleased the school system will report its case numbers daily.
“I think people are interested in knowing if there’s cases of COVID,” she said.
Brown said she goes back and forth about bringing students back to the building because some people do not believe the virus is a big deal and might not take proper precautions.
“I thought by November we’d be back down a lot lower than where we are now,” she said.
The school system reported as of Oct. 5, Charles County has a positivity rate of 3.7%. That’s higher than the state average.
At the Sept. 8 school board meeting, board members voted to return special populations of students to the building at the start of second quarter, Nov. 5. It’s phase two of a five-phase plan.
The system’s communication’s office sent a Sept 23 release stating it plans to begin phase two Nov. 9, pending approval from the board.
“They’re being so reactive. They’re not allowing the time to gather the information required,” board member Tajala Battle-Lockhart said about the announcement.
She said the reported numbers will be a great thing to have, though she does not plan to send her ninth-grade daughter back for hybrid learning. She added that the safety measures in place are “at a point where they make me feel uncomfortable” as a parent.
Employees who test positive for COVID-19 must notify their supervisor. The supervisor will notify human resources, which will handle next steps.
Hill noted in the letter that parents must tell their child’s school nurse if they test positive for the virus. The health department will conduct a contact tracing investigating for any student or staff member who tests positive.
School employees and students would be contacted by health department officials who would recommend isolation or quarantine if considered a close contact to a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Oct. 2 letter stated 12 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, and none originated from the school system’s facilities. The online chart, as of Oct. 6, showed there have been 13 positive cases since March among staff and one positive case from a student.
“In my opinion, any case is not a good case,” Battle-Lockhart said, adding that it is still concerning if a student or staff member tested positive for the virus outside the system. She said it’s something she will bring up at the next school board meeting Oct. 13.
The positive cases chart only shows students who have participated in in-person activities with the school system. The list consists only of the positive cases the public schools were notified of. Letters will not be sent for every positive case, according to the superintendent.
Charles County’s school staff and education association held a virtual town hall Wednesday to discuss and answer questions from staff about phase two.
Jason Stoddard, director of school safety and security, said 2,494 students will return for phase two, or 20-to-30% of those eligible. It includes special education students, students without internet and children of school staff.
Students are required to wear masks while in school, on the bus and while singing in chorus. Amy Hollstein, deputy superintendent, said they are waiting to hear what documentation needs to be provided for students who cannot wear masks for medical reasons.
Not complying with mask orders could result in a removal from face-to-face instruction after three strikes, according to Stoddard. Similar protocols will be followed for staff, Superintendent Kim Hill said.
“But we’re not going to immediately fire someone” who does not wear a mask properly, she said in response to a comment about the three strike system.
“I wasn’t going to say this, but I’m going to say it. The thought that we’re just doing this willy nilly, that we’re doing this without care... is disrespectful,” Hill said in response to comments made in the Zoom chat. “The people on this screen doing all the talking ... are subject matter experts.”