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Students at Perryville Middle School sat spaced six feet apart in the cafeteria, the only time during the day when they could remove their masks during the district’s hybrid reopening last fall.

ELKTON — On Feb. 22, Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) will begin having in-person instruction two days a week. Wednesdays will remain entirely virtual, with students attending on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.

Students who were part of the first 5% return group will remain in class for four days a week. Completely virtual education will remain an option for families who wish to stay at home.

Individual schools will distribute information about when specific students will attend class.

When making the decision, the district took into account community spread, students and staff reporting positive cases, and the Cecil County Health Department, who approved of the expansion of face-to-face learning, according to CCPS Public Information Officer Kelly Keeton.

Elkton High-School social studies teacher Jacob Zebley said he thought the school is moving toward in-person learning at an appropriate pace.

“I think that our district is making decisions based on science and based on meeting the needs of everyone and keeping everyone safe,” said Zebley.

Zebley said the change will significantly benefit students. He said that the steps students and staff have taken to mitigate the spread of COVID, social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands effectively keep students safe.

“Student engagement is higher when they are in the building with us,” said Zebley, who is currently completing a Ph.D. in education at the University of Wilmington. “It’s hard to see what a student is confused about on a computer screen. We have ways of asking, but I can see a confused look on a student’s face if they are physically present. I may miss that through a screen.”

Ricardo Burns, whose two grandchildren attend Northeast High-School, said the increased personal contact will help his granddaughters academically and socially.

“I believe Dr. Lawson and his team have been thoughtful and practical in their decision making,” said Burns.

Zebley, a teacher in CCPS for 14 years, said the investment the County made in technology before the pandemic made the transition into a hybrid learning model easier. Students attending the class remotely can speak to the entire class through speakers on presenters that project a teacher’s laptop on the whiteboard or through SMART boards. The class can hear their virtual classmates and respond to comments or questions. Zebley said that the school also provided microphone-equipped headsets that allow virtual students to listen to him as he moves around the room.

“It creates an interesting and new dynamic that I didn’t expect,” said Zebley. “Is it easy, no. But I don’t think teaching students before the pandemic was easy either. I think each situation presents its own unique challenges. And this is just another challenge that teachers are rising to the occasion for.”

Keeton said CCPS is beginning to offer rapid antigen testing to students and staff at 10 schools, Perryville Middle, Perryville High, Elkton High, Leeds Elementary, Rising Sun Middle, Rising Sun High, Bohemia Manor Middle and High, Holly Hall Elementary, North East High, and Bay View Elementary.

“We’re just so ready for things to be normal,” said Zebley. “We know that they’re not and that normal is not safe yet. But with every step, it feels better. I wanted to become a teacher because of the connections that I make with students and having the chance to teach them something they didn’t know before. And while we can do it online, and we’ve been doing it really well online, I’m ready to be back in person.”

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