ELKTON — Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) will enter a new phase of hybrid reopening on Nov. 9, bringing students back for two days of in-person instruction each week, administrators announced Tuesday.
In an interview with The Whig, CCPS Superintendent Jeff Lawson explained that schools across the district have a cap on the number of students they can accommodate while maintaining six feet of social distancing.
With students back two days a week, schools will still adhere to this capacity.
“We charged our facilities and maintenance staff with going through every classroom in the school system and placing dots in the classroom where students could sit, honoring the six foot social distancing,” Lawson said. “What we have assured the health department is that we won’t exceed that six feet social distancing number.”
The district moved into a hybrid model earlier this month, with students who want face-to-face learning coming back one day a week. Each day, the district had a cohort of around 3,000 students back in schools, while the rest learned remotely from home. Teachers deliver lessons concurrently to face-to-face and virtual students.
About a third of CCPS students opted to remain fully virtual for the time being.
Lawson explained that the in-person cohorts ‘collapse.’ Students who are currently in schools on either Monday or Tuesday might begin attending on both days, though individual schools have the flexibility to adjust cohorts as needed.
With some schools approaching their social distancing capacity with the next phase of reopening, Lawson said that any further expansion would depend on guidance from the state easing the restrictions on social distancing for students.
“It’s been small, incremental steps for us, and so I think that doing that has really allowed us to practice,” he said. “We’re at a point now where we are getting close to being able to do as much as we can, as long as the six foot social distancing piece is in place.”
The district also debuted an online dashboard, which will be updated daily with the number of reported COVID-19 cases among face-to-face students, virtual students and staff in a given week. The dashboard reports one case from a face-to-face student, one case from a virtual student and one case from a staff member this week at press time Tuesday evening.
Commending his staff for responding to isolated COVID cases quickly and professionally, Lawson said that this month’s rollout of in-person instruction one day per week has gone well — knock on wood.
Operationally, doubling the number of students returning face-to-face would not change much about the school day. Students and staff will still be required to wear masks, practice social distancing and sanitize regularly.
Lawson emphasized that the district has been communicating with families about how to keep their school communities safe, asking them to screen students each morning and err on the side of caution if anyone feels even mild symptoms. The dashboard, he added, is an important piece of communicating the level of COVID transmission in schools.
He acknowledged the challenges that come with virtual learning — many students struggle to pay attention at home, lack the technology required to reliably access lessons and are missing social development with their classmates, a concern particularly sharp for younger students.
While Lawson, alongside many parents and teachers, wants students back in classrooms, he reiterated that keeping everyone safe is his top priority.
“I think we’ve been pretty clear — we want our kids back in school,” Lawson said. “It’s not so much that we are disregarding the risks involved in bringing kids back to school. We are very concerned about the risks involved by not bringing our kids back in school.”
ELKTON — Officers arrested a woman free on bond in a drug case — one related to a triple-shooting investigation — after finding more than two ounces of suspect crack cocaine and other evidence while raiding her Elkton residence and a nearby dwelling that detectives believe served as her “stash house,” according to Cecil County District Court records.
Investigators arrested the suspect, Crystal Hammond, 44, on Oct. 21 after seizing evidence while searching her residence at 103 Cow Lane in Hollingsworth Manor, police reported.
They also took her alleged accomplice, Dorothy Sprout, 67, into custody after raiding Sprout’s nearby residence in the unit block of that neighborhood, police said. Investigators allege that Sprout’s residence served as a stash house, where Hammond allegedly kept drugs and money, police added.
This marks Hammond’s second drug arrest since May — when she initially was charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder and additional felonies in the wake of a triple-shooting that led to a protracted barricade situation at her Cow Lane residence and at another dwelling in Hollingsworth Manor. (Moreover, it marks Hammond’s third drug arrest since April 2019, court records show.)
A Cecil County grand jury did not indict Hammond on the attempted murder charges, however, after her district court case was forwarded to Cecil County Circuit Court and prosecutors presented the case to that 23-member panel.
But the grand jury did hand up a 13-count drug indictment against Hammond, according to court records.
Those charging documents allege that investigators confiscated 74 baggies of suspect heroin marked by “Donald Trump” and “Cash App” street-brand stamps, in addition to suspect methamphetamine and marijuana, while raiding Hammond’s Cow Lane residence in the aftermath of that May 11 barricade situation. The barricade situation at that Cow Lane address ended with one of the five suspects surrendering to members of a police tactical team several hours after the stand-off had started.
The barricade situations occurred after suspects fired several shots into a residence in the 100 block of Huntsman Drive, a townhouse community adjacent to Hollingsworth Manor, at approximately 3 p.m. on May 11 — wounding a man, 25, in the back and a boy, 6, in the left knee. A 31-year-old woman suffered a superficial wound to her foot.
Arrested amid or directly after the barricade situations were Hammond and her two sons — Robert Eugene Hammond IV, 24, and Cody Allen Hammond, 19, according to court records, which indicate that the Hammond family was living at 103 Cow Lane at the time of the incident.
(Robert Hammond is the suspect who surrendered to the police tactical team at the Cow Lane residence, ending the barricade situation there, police said, adding that his mother and younger brother had surrendered earlier that day.)
Also arrested were Jason Tyler Holland, 26, of North East — he turned himself in to police after spending two days on the lam — and Nakeere Anthony Sayers, 20, of Newark, Del.
The Hammond brothers and Holland are each charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder and other felonies connected to the triple shooting, and they are awaiting jury trials set for January and February. Holland and Cody Hammond are free after posting bonds of $100,000 and $75,000 respectively. Robert Hammond remains jailed without bond.
Sayers, who remains jailed without bond, was not charged with attempted murder. He is facing only drug and firearm charges — which are linked to a handgun, 18 baggies of suspect heroin and a small amount of suspect marijuana found inside of a backpack that he allegedly discarded moments after the triple shooting, court records show.
As for Crystal Hammond, she was released from jail on an unsecured $25,000 bond on May 14, three days after her arrest in the wake of the triple shooting and the related barricade situations, court records show.
Latest drug arrest
Hammond was free on that $25,000 unsecured bond Wednesday, when EPD investigators arrested her and Sprout after conducting a surveillance operation and then raiding their respective residences, police said. The surveillance operation and the raids were prompted by an investigation by EPD’s Street Crimes Unit, police added.
A surveilling EPD investigator watched an empty-handed Hammond leave her Cow Lane residence on Wednesday and return, moments later, carrying a brown shopping bag, according to court records.
The investigator then watched Hammond make an alleged “hand-to-hand” drug deal with a man who exited a red car parked in front of the Cow Lane residence and drove away directly after that purported transaction, court records allege.
Then the investigator watched Hammond — still holding the shopping bag — walk to Road 1, go into Sprout’s residence at 16 Hollingsworth Manor and leave empty-handed about three minutes later, before walking back to her Cow Lane residence, according to charging documents.
A short time later, the investigator watched Hammond leave her Cow Lane residence and walk to Road I, where she entered a white vehicle and engaged in another alleged hand-to-hand drug deal, police said. Hammond then exited that vehicle, which left the area quickly, police added.
“Hammond went back inside 103 Cow Lane. Hammond then left her residence and walked to and entered 16 Hollingsworth Manor. Hammond then left the residence after being inside approximately five minutes. Hammond was then holding a black hand purse,” EPD Ofc. Miodzianowski, the arresting officer, outlines in his written statement of probable cause.
Shortly after that surveillance operation, which was conducted by EPD Det. Thomas Saulsbury, Miodzianowski approached Hammond at the Wawa in the 300 block of West Pulaski Highway (Route 40), a short walking distance from Hollingsworth Manor, court records show.
The officer detained Hammond and drove her to EPD’s headquarters at 100 Railroad Ave., where he conducted a court-approved search of Hammond, police reported. Miodzianowski confiscated approximately $1,000 in cash, three prescription anti-anxiety (alprazolam) pills and a cell phone — all of which were found inside the black hand purse, court records allege.
“The alprazolam pills were packaged in a knotted plastic bag, which based on my training, knowledge and experience is consistent with packaging (drugs) for sale,” Miodzianowski notes in charging papers.
Investigators then conducted a court-approved search of Hammond’s Cow Lane residence, where they found 14 suspect amphetamine pills parceled into “individual knotted plastic bags,” seven suspect Suboxone strips located under a bed mattress, five suspected prescription stimulant (Vyvanse) pills, four suspect sedative pills, one suspect alprazolam pill and two cell phones, court records allege.
They also executed a search warrant at Sprout’s residence at 16 Hollingsworth Manor and confiscated suspect crack cocaine contained in six knotted sandwich baggies and about $1,500 in cash, which was contained in a lunch box inside a shopping bag, police said. The suspect cocaine had a total weight of 60 grams, which equates to four grams more than two ounces, police added. There are about 56 grams in two ounces.
Officers confiscated approximately $1,500 in additional cash inside the shopping bag, which also held 12 suspect amphetamine pills and one alprazolam pill, police reported.
“The brown shopping bag found inside the residence was consistent with the brown shopping bag Det. Saulsbury observed Hammond have in her possession before entering 16 Hollingsworth Manor,” according to charging documents, which further indicate that searchers did not find any other shopping bags that likened the one that the surveilling detective saw Hammond carrying.
Investigators noted “numerous text messages consistent with (illegal drug) sales” while checking the content of the cell phones seized from Hammond and Sprout, court records allege.
Hammond reportedly waived her right to remain silent and, during a police interview, confessed to investigators, court records allege.
“Hammond advised she had been keeping U.S. currency at Sprout’s residence. Hammond then advised she has been selling crack cocaine and cocaine. Hammond also acknowledged the crack cocaine and cocaine inside Sprout’s residence belonged to her,” court records allege.
Scheduled for a Nov. 18 preliminary hearing, Hammond is facing 22 criminal charges, including nine felony counts of possession of a controlled and dangerous substance with intent to distribute, according to court records.
Hammond remained in the Cecil County Detention Center without bond on Tuesday, five days after her bail review hearing court records show.
Sprout, who is free after posting a $1,500 bond, is facing four charges, including one felony count of possession of a controlled and dangerous substance with intent to distribute, according to court records.
Previous drug arrests
A trial date has not been set for Hammond in her most recent drug case.
As for Hammond’s drug case stemming from the investigation prompted by the May 11 triple-shooting and barricades situations, her jury trial is scheduled to start on Feb. 9. In that case, Hammond is facing 13 charges that relate to investigators confiscating 74 baggies of suspect heroin, as well as suspect methamphetamine and marijuana and $644 in cash, court records show.
That marked Hammond’s second drug arrest in a 13-month span.
In April 2019, investigators took Hammond into custody after confiscating 200 baggies containing suspect heroin mixed with fentanyl, a drug scale, a drug sales ledger and other evidence while raiding two Hollingsworth Manor residences, according to court records and Cecil Whig archives. (Also arrested during those raids were Hammond’s son, Robert, and her daughter, court records show.)
Prosecutors, however, later dropped several of the 42 charges against Crystal Hammond and placed the remaining ones on the stet, or inactive, docket, according to court records and Whig archives.