ELKTON — Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) announced Monday that five percent of students will be able to return for four days a week of in-person instruction beginning Monday, Jan. 11. The district will look to expand face-to-face learning to more students, but the timeline of that expansion remains uncertain.
According to CCPS Superintendent Jeff Lawson, the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to district staff will be a key factor in determining when schools can reopen more broadly.
“As the vaccines come out, and we start to bring back all of our employees, then you’re going to see more and more students come back,” he said. “A lot of what we want to do is predicated upon an effective rollout of the vaccine.”
Educators are included in the second tier of the first priority group, meaning they are largely next in line for vaccines after the county administers its first doses to healthcare workers and first responders. Lawson said that the district has worked in close collaboration with the county health department to ensure staff have access to vaccines as they become available.
The district is hoping to bring back its full staff on Jan. 25, but did not confirm whether more students will be welcomed back on that date.
Lawson said that many of the students in the first five percent to return have dedicated staff, including paraprofessionals and other educators who have indicated that they are comfortable returning in-person.
“With the five percent being in the buildings, you’re talking about maybe, with staff and students combined, a total of, in an elementary school, maybe thirty people,” he said. “That’s certainly a small enough group that we can control any potential spread.”
Cecil County was ahead of the curve last semester, bringing back the same core five percent of students with the highest need in the early weeks of September while schools across the state were still largely hesitant to reopen.
School buildings are a controlled environment, though, and the district layered on mitigation strategies to prevent viral spread among students and staff.
Six feet of social distancing, rigorous hand washing and sanitizing and wearing face masks — these were some safety measures enforced in schools across the district. CCPS also purchased 8,000 clear plastic sneeze guards for classrooms, cafeterias and other uses, regulated the flow of students in hallways and capped bathroom occupancy to one at a time.
For a while, it seemed to be working — there was no evidence of the virus spreading in school, and students and teachers were largely excited to be back.
The district expanded beyond the initial five percent to welcome students back at 25 percent capacity, offering one day of face-to-face instruction per week to all those students who had not indicated a preference to remain fully virtual. After the 25 percent reopening proceeded smoothly, they merged the four daily cohorts into two groups, bringing those students back for two in-person days a week.
But in mid-November, the rollout of the hybrid reopening hit a snag — local health metrics worsened, putting the county well over the positivity rate of five percent and new daily case rate of 15 per 100,000, numbers set by the Center for Disease Control as thresholds for safe reopening.
Schools were challenged not by rampant viral spread, but by staff quarantining — hundreds of CCPS staff were forced into ten day quarantines after potential exposure, leaving fewer and fewer teachers and support staff to run the schools.
Lawson indicated that this was the core reason the district had to return to fully remote learning in mid-November — the number of students back required the full muscle of the district staff, but with many staff in quarantine, it became unsustainable.
“When we broke camp, so to speak, back in the second week of November, some of our schools had hundreds of students,” he said. “So that was a little bit more of a precarious situation, especially with the way the numbers have spiked in these last few weeks.”
He said that they received the blessing of Health Department Director Lauren Levy to proceed with reopening for a small group of students. Those students who will be brought back as part of the five percent are identified by their schools, and typically face learning challenges such as living with a disability or being unable to reliably log in for online instruction.
“We felt like that was a way we could do things successfully,” he said. “And knock on wood, so far so good.”
RISING SUN — Whoever the mayor and commissioners are in 2070, they will get a good idea of what 2020 was like for Rising Sun and its residents thanks to a time capsule buried in front of Town Hall last week.
“Before the pandemic I came to the board and said I want to do a time capsule,” said Mayor Travis Marion. Marion said he felt 2020 would be a great time to have a snapshot of life in town and Cecil County. “With COVID it became even more important.”
Judy Melton, town clerk and Jenna Pratt, an intern, worked to strategically fill the tall blue metal cylinder with memorabilia from the town, the county, and the year including a mask with the town seal, items from town businesses, and a Cecil Whig.
“One of the cool things is Sun Pharmacy put a list in there of the most prescribed drugs for the year,” Marion said. He wanted to include something from Sue’s Restaurant but it closed Dec. 28. Without that 73-year-old business represented, Marion went to the next oldest; which is Sun Pharmacy. Main Street’s newest businesses — Rise N Grind Cafe and Bog Turtle Brewery are also included in the capsule.
Danielle Hornberger, county executive, participated in the ceremony, calling 2020 “a year that will be well-documented.”
“What may or may not be in documents or in history books is the way Cecil County came together,” Hornberger said. Pointing to the efforts to provide meals to students and seniors, to the shows of support for medical and first responders she saluted all the shows of support. “Just the rallying together, rallying for law enforcement and in this town where high school students rallied for peace and unity.”
After remarks, the officials worked together to bury the capsule, which Marion and Hornberger placed in a prepared spot in front of town hall. Ceremonial shovels were used to lob the soil back into the hole. Marion said a commemorative plaque would be placed over the hole indicating it should be dug up and reopened on Dec. 30, 2070.
It was noted by several of the elected officials that Marion was likely the only person at the Thursday morning ceremony that would be alive when the capsule is unearthed in 50 years. The mayor said regardless of who digs up the blue container the memories will be waiting.
“One day, our great-grandchildren may wonder what it was like to live through these times.” said Mayor Marion “We are leaving them a snapshot of life in 2020 and some great artifacts to explore.”
ELKTON — Capt. Joseph Zurolo walked out of Elkton Police Department’s headquarters on Wednesday, as EPD administrators, officers and detectives stood in lines — saluting him — and representatives of other law enforcement agencies in this county and members of the community watched.
Zurolo strode to a patrol car parked at the curb, slid into the driver’s seat, raised a police radio to his mouth and uttered, “10-42,” which is a code that law enforcement officers give at the end of their shifts to let dispatchers know that they are no longer on patrol, no longer in service.
It marked the last 10-42 for Zurolo, who worked his final shift that day — ending his 25-plus-year career in law enforcement.
“Thank you. This means a lot to me,” Zurolo, 52, said moments later, standing in front of the crowd of well-wishers after he exited the patrol car.
After exchanging salutes with EPD Chief Carolyn Rogers, who then verbally expressed her gratitude to him, Zurolo made his way to every person in attendance and said goodbye with handshakes and, or, salutes, hugs and pats on the shoulders.
Zurolo left the Elkton Police Department that day, but, as it turns out, he did not leave the Town of Elkton.
He is now assistant town administrator, a newly created position in which Zurolo will serve essentially as second-in-command to Town Administrator Lewis H. George, who hired him to that post.
“Team Elkton welcomed the opportunity for Capt. Joseph Zurolo to join our administration following his successful career in law enforcement with the Elkton Police Department . . . Joe brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of the Elkton community with him, along with his dedication and commitment to public service, and we look forward to having him on our team for many years to come,” George said.
It is noteworthy that, as a captain during his law enforcement career, Zurolo served as second-in-command to then-Chief Matthew Donnelly for approximately eight years and, for the last five weeks, to Rogers, a 30-year agency veteran who was appointed to that top position in late November.
Moreover, Zurolo had served as acting/interim EPD chief for about three months — between August, when Donnelly retired after 31 years with the department, and late November, when Rogers was appointed chief.
Also noteworthy is that Zurolo is the second retired EPD administrator who chose to continue working for the town in a different capacity. After his retirement five months ago, Donnelly was hired as an Elkton Department of Public Works employee.
“It has been a pleasure working with Joe,” Rogers told the Cecil Whig shortly after Wednesday’s last-call ceremony, before commenting, “I am pleased that he will still be here in town and that he’s now going to essentially be my boss. I know that he will be a valuable resource to me, as I grow into my new position.”
Zurolo expressed excitement over starting a different career with the same town — where he already has forged professional relationships with municipal leaders, downtown business owners and others in the community during the years that he served with EPD.
“I feel this is a very organic job transition. I already know the inner workings of the town government,” Zurolo said, adding, “I feel my training and experience with the police department have provided me with knowledge and abilities that have prepared me very well for this new position. I chose a career path that allowed me to serve the community. In this new position, I will be able to serve the community in a different way.”
Law enforcement service
Born and raised in Connecticut, Zurolo, who studied criminal justice at a community college near his hometown, came to this area some 25 years ago, after his uncle, Joseph G. Zurolo Jr., informed him that there was an opening for a deputy position with the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office.
(His uncle, also a Connecticut native, served 35 years in Cecil County and throughout Maryland as a deputy fire marshal with the Maryland Office of the State Fire Marshal, before retiring in 2010. Before that career, Zurolo served briefly as an EPD patrol officer in the early 1970s. Zurolo Jr. died in February at age 71, after a long illness.)
“Why a career in law enforcement? Like any (police officer) you might ask, my answer, I suppose, would be the same: I wanted to dedicate myself to a career of service. I wanted to help the community, to make it a safer and better place to live,” Zurolo said.
Zurolo served about one year as a CCSO patrol deputy, after then-Sheriff Bill Killough, also now departed, hired him in May 1995. Zurolo then applied for a job with the Elkton Police Department and was hired in 1996 as a patrol officer.
During the 25 years that he served with the agency, Zurolo rose through the ranks to corporal, sergeant, 1st sergeant, lieutenant bureau commander of special operations and then to captain, a position in which, as one of his many duties, he served as the department’s public information officer. In that capacity, Zurolo provided information to the Cecil Whig and other media outlets in this county and elsewhere in the state.
Zurolo received numerous accolades throughout his career. One of them was the Chief’s Commendation, which was bestowed upon Zurolo to recognize him for disarming a knife-wielding, mentally-ill person and then taking that person into custody, without causing any injuries.
Also during the time that he served with EPD, Zurolo received special training to make him an even more effective officer and administrator.
Zurolo, for example, is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, a program for active U.S. law enforcement employees and also for international law enforcement personnel who “seek to enhance their credentials in their field and to raise law enforcement standards, knowledge, and also cooperation worldwide,” according to Zurolo’s career summary, which an emergency dispatcher read over the police radio during his last-call ceremony.
He also is a graduate of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Leadership in Police Organizations, which is the IACP’s flagship leadership development training program. LPO is modeled after the training concept of dispersed leadership, which means, “every officer is a leader,” and it delivers modern behavioral science concepts and theories uniquely tailored to the law enforcement environment.
“Capt. Zurolo’s diverse law enforcement background has provided him the experience and operational knowledge of all elements of the law enforcement field,” according to his career summary.
Time to go
Zurolo decided to retire from law enforcement simply because he knew that it was time for a change, not because of any disenchantment.
“I had a great career, and I loved my career,” Zurolo said, before explaining, “You just know when it’s time to go. I woke up one morning and knew it was time to move forward. I feel revitalized in my new position. I am proud of the work that has been done in the past five or six years by the Elkton Police Department and town leaders to improve this town. I am looking forward to doing my part to make Elkton an even better place to live, work and play.”