Open Letter to FCPS: Pressure to open schools foolish in pandemic

Madeline+Hull+sitting+at+her+school+desk+from+home%2C+thinking+about+the+dangers+of+going+back+to+school.+

Graphic by Madeline Hull

Madeline Hull sitting at her school desk from home, thinking about the dangers of going back to school.

The short URL of the present article is: https://lhslance.org/axytg

Dear Frederick County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Alban:

I am a junior in high school, not a professional in health care, but I could give you some reasons why going back to school in January at the start of Semester 2 is a terrible idea.

It’s no secret that virtual school is unpleasant for students, teachers, and parents. We are all completely miserable with the stress that comes from the amount of work in online school, the constant working day and night, mixed with the occasional internet issues.  

Nobody enjoys this method of learning, but going back to in-person school as the Maryland coronavirus cases spike makes no sense.

As students we have a choice to stay virtual. I urge my fellow high school students to stay home from in-person school.

The Frederick County Board of Education approved a plan in November to bring students back into the classroom in time for the second semester. Under the plan, half of the high school students would be back in the classroom on Mondays and Tuesdays (Cohort A), while the other half would return on Thursdays and Fridays (Cohort B).

A survey given by FCPS showed that almost half of students are planning to stay home in the upcoming semester. This means only half of all students from Linganore will come to school. The remainder of students who are planning on being in-person will be split between A and B-day. So we are talking about 25-30% capacity at any time.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst its been in the United States.  The overview for the state of Maryland, total cases is estimated to be around 267K with 5,712 deaths (as of December 25).

On May 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised governments that before reopening, rates of positivity in a testing (ie, out of all tests conducted, how many came back positive for COVID-19) should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days. 

The Maryland Testing Positivity rate is 8.5% and in Frederick County, the positivity rate is 10.8% (as of December 30). Even as I was drafting this letter, the positivity rate went up more than one percent.  

Currently, only five states meet the positive recommendations, and Maryland is not one. 

Cases skyrocketed after students came home from college for Thanksgiving break, and families gathered for their annual turkey dinners.  There’s no reason to think that families changed their habits over winder break.  Health experts are predicting an even sharper increase in coronavirus infections, as many families travel long distances to celebrate together. 

How much traveling long distances?  BWI airport recorded its highest travel day since March 2020 just before Christmas. Despite Governor Hogan’s essential travel only order, nothing is stopping people from moving about and spreading this disease.

It is more important now than ever to stop the spread of COVID-19. Hospitals are overwhelmed; people are losing their minds; and cases are continuing to rise.  The vaccine–the only sure way to slow the spread–is on the horizon, but it is not here now.  In fact, Maryland has the worst rate of vaccine roll-out in the 50 states, as reported by Bloomberg News.

While the hybrid plan is great, in theory, the minute students walk into that school building, there is no doubt that students will be overwhelmed with joy and be hugging everyone from left to right.  

Whether it is because of senioritis or just students who haven’t seen their friends and fellow classmates in what seems like forever, students will find ways to join together.

That urge to hug someone is going to be stronger than the urge to remain apart.

What most don’t realize is that hybrid in person may be just as lonely as being at home. 

With this being said, when students go back in person we will be seeing cases go up.  There will be quarantining, disruption, fear, and rumor.  It’s hard to imagine pulling this off.  

One example is Corinth, Mississippi. In the first two weeks of in-person school, 130 of the district’s 2,600 students were quarantined after 10 students and two staff members reported that they’d tested positive. 

Students returned to Carroll County Public Schools on October 19 for hybrid learning. Within two weeks of re-opening, three COVID-19 cases were reported and another 57 individuals were considered persons under investigation (PUI). As a result of the confirmed cases and PUIs, 126 others had to quarantine. 

So, right away, when students take their first step into the doors of the school building, they will be starting a cycle of positivity, quarantining, and confusion.

According to the school coronavirus dashboard, as of December 16, Linganore High School had five positive confirmed cases. Middletown Elementary had three positive cases, and Frederick Christain Academy has eight positive cases. 

In the weeks since Thanksgiving, I have had at least three friends and relatives test positive for Covid-19. 

In Lancer Lines Principal Cindy Hanlon answered many of the questions parents and families have: The hallways will be marked with directional arrows and staggered release times. Grab and go lunches will be served daily by the cafeteria. Seating in the cafeteria and on Main Street will be set up to be socially distant. Cleaning will occur between lunch shifts. 

At the most, we will be following the 6-feet rule but that’s the minimum distance, even with masks on covering the mouth and nose. 

This is all fine. I appreciate how the staff is thinking through each and every possibility, but even 100 distanced students in the cafeteria each day is more than the governor allows at any gathering.

We all are aware that any form of large gathering or parties should not be happening, and I think we can all agree that anyone hosting or attending a party right now clearly is only thinking about themselves.

So my question is, how is throwing a party during a pandemic any different than us going back to in-person school during a pandemic? Governor Hogan has limited in-person gatherings to 10 people. 

Closed rooms with poor circulation? Check.

Irresponsible teenagers? Check.

I can assure you that I will not be participating in the hybrid method. I am not putting myself and others at risk while we are still in a pandemic.  I am not going to be surrounding myself with irresponsible teenagers and, quite frankly, some teachers, especially during a pandemic. 

High school students, and some adults, often don’t wear masks over their noses, so it’s almost like you’re not wearing a mask at all. Teenagers who go to parties are often without masks, don’t keep social distance, and are not thinking about others. 

If you are so desperate to get students back into a school building, then I would start with the age bracket this is less likely to contract and carry the virus. Think about the small children who need to be in school, the families who depend on the school to provide time for them to work, and the effect on children emotionally.

Elementary school children, who, based on data don’t spread the virus as much, should be the students in-person. Keep high school students virtual.

High school students are better equipped to be online as opposed to younger children .

Confirmed Cases Over Time of COVID-19 in Frederick County. Data provided by Alert Center. (Frederick County Government)

Based on the information and data I have seen, we should not be going anywhere near a school building. 

I am so incredibly drained, mentally, and physically, but I’m doing my part in staying safe by social distancing and wearing a mask.  Let me tell you–it’s hard. 

I miss my friends, I miss the chatter every morning in the halls, and I miss being in a classroom but I know how unsafe going back would be. 

People in my household are immunocompromised, making them high risk, and I don’t want to be the reason someone in my family gets sick and possibly passes away. 

Think about what is really at risk right now. We’re all doing our best with online school. It’s hard but we’re making it work.

In Maryland, 5,712 people have died and your biggest worry is opening schools?

Please postpone your decision to re-open.  Join Howard County Schools and move the re-opening date to April 2021.

Sincerely, 

Madeline Hull