Back To School 2020: Part Three
47 ABC – As schools who choose to have students return in a hybrid model or in-person the elephant in the room for some is the question of how safe is enough.
In Crisfield, they are preparing to start phasing in groups of students whose family’s have said they’re ready to return back in class. With the first students coming back at the beginning of October they are now in the final countdown.
“I think that we’re cautiously optimistic and it’s our duty to be cautious, but it’s also our duty to be optimistic,” said Victoria Miele, public relations specialist for Somerset County Public Schools.
Inside of Crisfield High School, markings fill the hallways, walls, and desks as reminders of the rules everyone will have to follow. The same applies to the county school buses.
“We’ve got the seats marked, right now we’re only allowed to carry 12 students, we’ve got the seats staggered,” said Bernard Johnson, the transportation technician/school bus driver and trainer for SCPS.
After every ride, SCPS has invested in electrostatic sprayers to be used to sanitize the whole bus. As well as additional sprayers to go inside of each school.
In Seaford, they decided to have students back the first day under a hybrid model. Their schools are also marked everywhere with reminders of proper safety measures.
“We have stressed since the staff has come back day one that these masks it’s not negotiable because that’s how we stay educating students,” said Dr. Corey Miklus, superintendent of the Seaford School District.
Dr. Miklus tells 47ABC he knows there will be positive cases, but with masks and following Health Department protocols he says that’s how the cases will remain isolated and the schools open.
“If we both have masks on and you happen to be positive and I kept my mask on and we remained socially distant the guidance we’re having right now is that I would not have to quarantine,” Dr. Miklus said.
One of the only places masks are able to come off inside of the buildings is in the cafeterias when students eat. Where the set up alone is a stark reminder of just how safe students and staff have to be. Cafeteria workers equipped with not just a mask but a face shield as well.
“You’re going to see desks, traditional student desks six feet apart facing the same direction so they eat our cafeteria staff delivers their food,” said Dr. Miklus.
With all the rules, you might expect students to have a hard time but in Seaford, they say the students have bought in. So far there have been zero confirmed cases there.
The same can be said at the Salisbury School, a private school in Salisbury, Md. Where they returned to full in-person teaching on day one.
“Kids were bounding out and were so happy and still so respectful, keeping the distance the six feet, wearing their mask giving virtual hellos and elbow bumps at a distance,” said Head of School, Bev Dearing.
In addition to masks inside their classrooms, each desk is socially distanced on top of having a plexiglass divider. Even down to first grade though teachers say the students don’t seem to mind.
“They have amazed me, I mean I did not think it was going to be like this with first graders at all,” said Vanessa Fenell, who teaches first grade at the Salisbury School.
According to educators, the willingness to follow the rules may come from the fact that after losing school in the spring kids actually want to be back.
“Even the kids that you maybe wouldn’t even expect want to come to school really miss their teachers, they miss the environment, they miss staff, they miss our principal, they miss the cafeteria, they just miss that interaction,” said Lindsey Tilghman, an English teacher at Crisfield High School.
Many parents we spoke to agree. For Kevin Beauchamp in Salisbury, he says his son was getting depressed during the spring so by his request they moved him from virtual public school to in-person private school. Almost immediately he says his son’s mood started to improve.
“In the end I thought it was less risk to get him back emotionally and mentally and to a school environment, in person learning around his peers than it would be to keep him home where he has no interaction and no exposure to Covid,” Beauchamp said.
For teachers it’s that same risk and reward that all of them say they’re factoring right now. The risk of exposure versus the reward of being able to teach their students in person.
It seems many have chosen the latter, saying they’ll do what it takes to keep kids safe and get them the education they need.
“Most of us and the ones that are in it for the love of teaching are using that mentality of it’s going to be extra hours and it’s going to be time in the trenches trying to figure it out but I think that it’s worth it in the end because we miss our kids so much and we want to do whatever we can to get them back into some sense of normalcy,” said Logan Webster, a history teacher at Crisfield High School.