Suptd. Bromwell speaks on school reopenings

Submitted photo/DCPS, Valerie Goff
Superintendent of Public Schools W. David Bromwell shared the latest information on school reopening during an interview July 13 with Dr. Theresa Stafford on WHCP Radio’s Community Conversations.

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester County Public Schools (DCPS) Superintendent W. David Bromwell spoke July 13 on WHCP Radio’s Cambridge Community Conversation online program, sharing details on emerging plans for the coming school year.
Classes have not been held in schools since the coronavirus pandemic forced schools’ closure in March. Local students finished their spring semester with distance learning, completing packets sent to their homes in the mail.

Executive Director of New Beginnings Youth and Family Services Dr. Theresa Stafford volunteered to serve as moderator for the Q&A session, which featured questions from an online audience. In this format, questions are posted online as the program continues, retrieved by the moderator, and posed to the interview subject.

The county’s Board of Education released a Draft Reopening Plan on July 13, which was published in the July 15 edition of the Dorchester Banner. The plan is based on an “A and B Week” schedule, in which students will attend their school one week, and study at home the next.
Regular health checks and social distancing would be maintained. There would be no assemblies, after-school activities, guest presenters, visitors or outside organizations.

An option for all-remote learning is included.
The deadline for Maryland schools to submit their reopening plans is Aug. 15, though Mr. Bromwell said he hopes to have Dorchester’s finalized by the end of this month. Schools are scheduled to reopen on Aug. 31.
The Board of Education put together a 41-person committee in mid-June, composed of a variety of concerned parties and experts: health officials, parents, teachers, principals, union representatives and others. Subcommittees examined safety, instruction and operations.

Plans are based on keeping students and staff as safe as possible from infection by the virus. Cases in the state, down to about 200 newly confirmed per week a month ago, have risen to about 800 confirmed cases per week.

Testing positive
As how parents will be notified if a student tests positive, Mr. Bromwell said, “There’s no question that at some point, a student will test positive.” At that point, contact tracing will begin, and the school will close. “It would probably be a three-day turnover” during which deep cleaning would take place, he said.
Some sort of testing will have to be done, though that format is up in the air also. “We have to, very cautiously, see where they are,” Mr. Bromwell said.
However, recognizing that results would be skewed by the spring disruptions, he said the Maryland Department of Education “recommended no testing in the fall.”

Other counties online
Six counties in Maryland have already said they wanted to be completely online when the school year starts, with no students in the buildings. But that plan might not fly here. “The people in Dorchester County want our kids to come back,” Mr. Bromwell said, “And overall, our teachers do.”
Local students are not yet “one-on-one” with devices, as they are in some wealthier counties, though devices have been ordered for all students. But not knowing if they will arrive in time for the start of the school year makes it tough to call now for all-online instruction in Dorchester County.

Child care
The need for parents to work figures into calculations. “All our businesses in Dorchester County are affected by what Dorchester County Public Schools do, and how our kids come back,” Mr. Bromwell said.
So though the week-on, week-off plan could cause loss of income for families that have to provide child care rather than go to work, “If we’re in phase 2, we have to keep safety protocols in place. We have to follow our Health Department’s Dr. Roger Harrell.”

Buses will probably be loaded to about half capacity. This will put students within six feet of one another, but without this seating — the six-foot limit puts about eight students on each bus — there will be no way to transport students to and from schools in a reasonable time.
Mr. Bromwell quoted Caroline County Superintendent Dr. Patricia Saelens, saying, “If we can’t get 24 on a bus, we can’t come back.”

And not educating the county’s youth isn’t an option, regardless of the final plan. The superintendent praised all those who work for DCPS, who faced unexpected challenges that reminded him of the crew of the Apollo 13 space mission, who succeeded in solving seemingly impossible problems.

“They Apollo 13’ed this pandemic,” Mr. Bromwell said. “We’re going to find a way to make this happen.”
The complete interview can be found by searching for “WHCP Community Conversations site:YouTube.”