Somerset students set to return virtually, majority of parents and staff “uncomfortable” returning in-person

SOMERSET CO., Md. – Empty schools have become a common sight during the pandemic and this fall they’ll stay that way in Somerset County, at least for the first couple of weeks with plans for students to start the upcoming school year virtually.

“Why take that chance? If we can slowly come back, that’s the best way to do it,” says Somerset County Superintendent Dr. John Gaddis.

On Tuesday night, the Somerset County Board of Education unanimously voted to start the 2020 school year virtually. “Initially about 46 or 47 percent were concerned and that grew to over 60 percent of our parents in the second survey and then our teacher survey, 72 percent of our teachers were uncomfortable coming back and having kids in the classroom,” says Gaddis.

One of the biggest challenges for the rural county is internet connectivity so they’re working to partner with places like fire companies to serve as internet access points. “Everything will upload and download on their device and they won’t need to worry about internet because all the links will be loaded and cached and so they’ll have everything they need,” says Gaddis.

Teachers will still be able to instruct from their actual classrooms and educators say technology is helping ensure all subjects will be taught. “I think we’re going to get closer to what our vision would have been if we were literally sitting across the table with the student,” says Lilly Welch who serves on the county’s Instruction Committee.

As for in person learning, Gaddis says they’re hoping to bring students back in waves based on need. “I believe early November we could have all students whose parents felt comfortable sending them to school in school while also maintaining a virtual environment.”

When students and staff do return, they’ll be required to wear face masks unless they are seated and socially distanced. “We’ve recognized there’s a concern with having our mouths covered especially for teachers or possibly students that are English learners or hard of hearing and things like that,” says Daniele Haley who serves on the county’s Facilities Committee.

These days anything can change so educators will be keeping a close eye on health guidelines and possibly adjusting their plans as recommendations change.

The Board of Ed will be voting on a more specific plan in two weeks. However, they have decided to start after Labor Day this year. They say this may give parents more time to coordinate plans, help schools fine tune technology and offer time for students to be tested before they return. Officials are still working out exactly how they plan to feed students whether that looks the same as the spring or a curbside pick up option from schools.

Categories: Local News, Maryland