Masked students

Masks and quarantines have become part of the school routine as the 2021-2022 year has started.

While having children back in school is good news, the disruptions in classroom instruction and other components of academic normalcy have created challenges for the region’s public school systems.

The lingering presence of COVID-19, particularly the delta variant, has resulted in mask mandates in all of Maryland’s public school systems. On Tuesday, the Maryland State Board of Education received approval of a statewide masking requirement for all public schools. The emergency regulation will remain in effect for 180 days, according to a MSDE press release.

Charles, St. Mary’s and Calvert public school systems already had in place indoor mask mandates since school began three weeks ago.

“We have completed two weeks of school,” Daniel Curry, Calvert County school superintendent told Southern Maryland News in an email on Monday. “At this point we have had a total of 84 students test positive, eight staff test positive and 256 students have been required to quarantine due to exposure.”

In addition, Curry said, “We have had to close two fourth grade classrooms at Plum Point Elementary School.”

In Charles County, the public school system as of earlier this week had seen 153 COVID-19 cases among students and 25 staff cases.

According to Jason Stoddard, Charles County Public Schools safety and security director, the overwhelming majority of the cases among students were observed as coming from outside of school activities, with only two cases attributed to transmission within the school.

The school system’s official safety and security department account, the office headed by Stoddard, tweeted on Monday that a staff member from Charles public school system had died from COVID-19 over the weekend. The tweet has since been deleted and reposted as an “edit” because, according to a comment Stoddard made on Facebook, “some saw the inclusion of other information in the tweet as insensitive and I never want to offend anyone. It wasn’t the intent.”

In the original tweet, he said the number of other cases in the county was “proving school is not where spread happens!”

Multiple school officials, including Stoddard, Superintendent Maria Navarro and several school board members, would not confirm or comment on the alleged death or did not return requests for comment by deadline.

Last week, Charles County school officials announced measures deemed necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, including updating its protocols for testing sick students and staff by a school nurse. School homecoming dances in Charles have been canceled.

Between Aug. 29 through Sept. 10, St. Mary’s public schools reported 114 students and 21 staff tested positive for COVID-19.

“The numbers are updated in real time as cases are communicated to the school system,” Scott Smith, St. Mary’s public schools’ superintendent, told Southern Maryland News. “We are not tracking students in quarantine, as that is a function of the St. Mary’s County Health Department and not determined by our [school system] staff. We have not had any classrooms closed.”

The St. Mary’s health department “does not release numbers of persons quarantined by institution at this time,” Kim Robertson, spokeswoman for St. Mary’s health department, said.

Calvert’s handling of its quarantine policy drew some harsh criticism from parents during that school board’s Sept. 9 meeting.

“The curriculum for children who are being quarantined is woefully inadequate and, to date, little or no plan exists for children who are experiencing compulsory absence from school,” Kyle Webber said. “This demonstrates a serious lack of leadership from this body. Children who needn’t be quarantined are nevertheless being forced out of school by onerous restrictions placed on them by the school board and health department. If a child is sick, he or she ought to stay away. However, why are we putting perfectly healthy children into quarantine?”

“Dozens of healthy children are quarantined without any or very limited teacher instructions, starting as early as the first day of school,” said Melissa Goshorn of the Calvert County Public School Parents Facebook group.

Mandatory masking within school buildings, especially of younger students, has also brought angry words from parents and local officials. State authorities have apparently wrested that responsibility away from the locals with Tuesday’s mandate.

“Masking inside schools helps protect our students, teachers and school staff as we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mohammed Choudhury, state school superintendent, said in a release. “It is critical that all school systems follow this emergency law.”

Staff writers Darryl Kinsey Jr. and Caleb M. Soptelean contributed to this report. Twitter: @MartySoMdNews

Staff writers Darryl Kinsey Jr. and Caleb M. Soptelean contributed to this report.

Twitter: @MartySoMdNews