Students in Prince George's County, Maryland, returned to in-person learning Tuesday for the first time since before winter break as parents and teachers manage new COVID-19 protocols.
Parents dropping their kids off for the return to in-person learning at Marlton Elementary School in Upper Marlboro were cautiously optimistic.
"Every day I'm trying to, you know, just make sure I look at the emails and just stay on top of what I need to do as a parent," Avis Ryan said.
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There are plenty of new protocols in place:
- The county has expanded its random COVID-19 testing.
- It will distribute KN95 masks and at-home COVID rapid tests to each student and staff member.
- Students are requested to test Sunday night and upload results before returning to school.
- Quarantine rules will mirror Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
- The Temporary K-6 distance learning program will end Jan. 28.
"When we say we’re requesting that they do that test, many of our parents have been 100% compliant with many of the requests that we've made," Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson said.
She said testing started after school began because the break and virtual learning allowed for adequate quarantine time. She said they'll call the parents of kids who don't do rapid tests, and if teacher sick days rise again, she said students won't be grouped in gyms and auditoriums as they were before winter break.
“If we end up with a school situation where we have a large number of students who have tested positive, and staff, and a large number that have to go in quarantine, then we will shift that school back to virtual learning, but what I have committed to our community that we will not do is to systemically close," Goldson said.
"With teachers there’s so many students to one teacher that they can't catch everything," parent and teacher Toni Stevens-Vernon said.
She said testing needed to happen before the return to school.
“We're not getting tested until today, so we’re still going to be all in the same space without being tested first, so who does that help?" she said.
The president of the Prince George’s County teachers union said teachers would have liked to have seen mandatory testing and would have also liked to have seen it start before school did.
According to guidelines from the Maryland Department of Education, if 5% of students or staff in a school building test positive for COVID-19, that particular school building can move to virtual learning.