Simple (but unpopular) solutions to solve the increase in Covid exposure at FCPS

Masks won’t solve it all


Graphic by Caroline Hobson

Shown above is the health metrics board of Frederick County. This board is updated every seven days.

We see what really happens in the halls of FCPS schools. 

We can see what FCPS has done in the past and what they are doing now to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and while we love being back in school, we have a few concerns about the safety of our staff and students. 

Well, “concerns” is a kind word.  We are really worried.

Football games, marching band, sports and extracurriculars. These are all back in full swing, and there is rising excitement now more than ever to be unmasked, have a good time, and forget all about the misery of the Covid high school experience. 

At the weekly Friday night football games, the Linganore High administration sends out a Find Out First to the community.A similar email is sent to all high schools around the county. This warning doesn’t stop hundreds of enthusiastic fans, mostly unmasked, from sitting shoulder to shoulder and screaming at the top of their lungs.

It’s time we put a little common sense back into the Covid plan–starting with masking and/or social distancing at big events when people will be in close proximity.

Homecoming was a success, largely because there were many spaces where it was easy to spread out and mask.

We have a few additional changes that would drive down the danger of exposure, including social distancing in the classroom and cafeteria and more rigorous use of high quality masks. 

Also, we want to reinstate cleaning protocols and less loitering in the hallways.

Loitering in the halls isn’t an easy problem to solve

Before school, students are standing in large, tightly packed groups for about 25 minutes until the second bell rings and they are dismissed to go to class. We need to figure out some way to reduce the congestion in the halls. 

According to the CDC, students are still required to stay at least 3 feet apart in classrooms, and if not possible, schools need to implement layering prevention strategies to keep students safe.

From the eyes of the students, this is either not happening or not being explained well enough so everyone understands the layers. Since in-person instruction is the first priority, these layers are imperative.

There are several major instances of schools not being able to practice the recommended CDC safety guidelines.

We feel that students’ mental health is just as important as their physical well being, and we would like to have a school year that values both.  This is not an easy task.

First we would like to point out… Classes are bursting at the seams. How do we safely socially distance? 

According to the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland State Department of Education, local school systems, nonpublic schools, and childcare programs may set their own policies and procedures for their schools, students/children, teachers, and staff. 

However, the CDC recommends that these school systems work with local health departments to determine efficient layered prevention strategies to keep people safe.

Maryland ranks about 15th in terms of Covid safety (which in our opinion is pretty great). In our opinion, it is upholding the safety guidelines and further protecting students, even if they are fully vaccinated and live in a “safe” state. We feel that we should still socially distance in the halls and in classes.

Just months prior, we were under a strict hybrid schedule where students sat at least three feet apart in all their classes and had the halls to themselves.

This year, halls are overflowing with kids who stand shoulder to shoulder. Classes are being crammed with 35+ students, and classrooms are bursting at the seams with no social distancing procedures in place. It’s not that teachers don’t want to distance–it’s that it’s nearly impossible.

Teachers should make desks further apart, placing tape in the halls to regulate the flow.

This is just one suggestion on how we can make students feel safer in the classrooms.

What about mask mandates?

Next, we would like to point out that every day, we walk through crowded hallways of people wearing non CDC approved face coverings, with many wearing them incorrectly. 

Contrary to opinion, it matters what type of mask we wear.

Cloth masks that fit properly around the nose and mouth and have multiple layers of protection still only provide 50-70% protection from outside germs.

Surgical (disposable) masks as seen being worn by doctors on television, are FDA approved. They have fluid resistance and provide protection against droplets. However, they are loosely-fitting, and are unreliable when it comes to filtration protection against smaller airborne molecules.

Based on the information located on the CDC, certain cloth masks can be worn in public; however, nothing will beat the protection given by the KN95 mask and N95 respirator.

The KN95 masks have been manufactured to provide 95% protection from particulate matter. The N95 respirator is NIOSH approved, it is tight fighting and filters a minimum of 95% of airborne particles against smaller airborne molecules.

Typically around the school you see students wearing either cloth or disposable masks. It is not a comforting feeling seeing students wearing masks improperly and while teachers try their best to regulate the mask wearing, it does very little to fix the issue.

Providing  parents with a list of acceptable mask types (perhaps with purchase links) and handing out CDC approved masks at the door (which fit much better anyway) is a start.

Our next suggestion is to give out warnings, detentions, and suspensions to kids who continue to refuse to wear their mask properly. While this seems extreme, we feel that it is the only way to get students to respect the rules. Right now, teachers are in the endless cycle of saying, “Pull up your mask, please.”  

It’s like other types of discipline.  Once the school gets more consistent, a lot of mask problems will disappear.

What layering strategies, if any, is FCPS using within schools to follow the Maryland Department of Health, and CDC guidelines to keep students and teachers safe?

On the CDC and Maryland Health websites it is clear that they encourage schools to use layering strategies to minimize the risk of Covid exposure and spread. 

While we cannot say with confidence what exactly the layering strategies at linganore are, we know that there have been extra lunch shifts added to help decrease the amount of tightly packed students in the cafeteria. 

This is the only layering strategy that we as students can identify at school besides mask wearing. 

However, sitting side by side during lunch unmasked defeats the purpose of adding an extra lunch shift. Nothing has changed, except instead of every table being filled, there’s now a few empty tables scattered across the lunch room. Students are unmasked, sitting side by side, spewing food, germs, and the latest gossip on one another. 

As the school day ends, students walk down to the lower field to participate in sports such as football, cross country, field hockey, and soccer on a daily basis. 

This is another area where we feel we should have a bit more regulation, such as making practices more spread out, and giving teams more space between one another. 

The field is packed with sports of every kind, and there is no contact tracing whatsoever. Which honestly defeats the purpose of implementing it during the school day. 

Students can contract Covid from practicing outside with no masks, or playing a game against an opposing school.

To end the week, students are packed in tight for a Friday night football game. Students in the student section are practically sitting on top of each other to cheer and watch the game. While we love a packed student section, it is smart to spread us out just a bit to help ease concern. We suggest just giving the students more space to sit. This will naturally create more space among students and just make people feel more comfortable. 

Finally, update the FCPS Metrics Dashboard

We don’t care about what’s happening at other schools.  We want to know what’s happening in the LHS feeder district.  These metrics, including the number of students quarantining, should be a link on our school website.

All FCPS schools keep track of the number of Maryland confirmed positive cases, FCPS confirmed cases and school outbreaks in an online portal that can be accessed by anyone looking. While that is incredibly helpful to have readily available, now that students can be sent home for weeks to Covid exposure, a new column should be added. 

I think we can say for most students and staff that we would like to see how many people around us are being sent home on a daily basis. We know that there is a privacy factor that comes into these weekly updates, we are not asking to change that. We are asking to be informed of what’s going on around us. Is there a student sitting next to us who tested positive and we don’t know? This metric system doesn’t tell us. 

From a students perspective, it feels

High School Football games from around Frederick County. Students stand side by side outside cheering on their home teams. All images are located on Instragram under the Usernames @CHS_crazie, @LHSJournalism, @mtownstudentsection, @ohsbearscheerleading, @urbanastudentsection, @tuscarorastudentsection (Graphic by Madeline Hull)

like we are digging just to find minimal information on what should be a huge concern. We feel that the weekly updates should be more individualized to the student and the school. FCPS as a whole should have layering strategies, however schools should personalize those strategies based on the schools numbers. Schools should give more personalized updates to parents and students weekly to inform families that their student is still safe in school. 

We aren’t asking to go back to virtual school. We are simply asking for an explanation as to what is going on. Where’s the logic when making these decisions? Only three months ago we were three feet apart during lunch, in classes, and required to put paper covers on top of our desks. The virus is still raging.  We need to take a step bak.

 We would like to say thank you for all the time and dedication that FCPS has put into making this school year successful. We want to point out that we do not have all the answers, we are just concerned students trying to point out what we see.  We are grateful for your consideration and persistence with trying to resolve this ongoing situation for a safe, successful, healthy future.