ELKTON — On the first day of school, Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) had almost 11,000 users logged in to its online learning platform at one time with no major technical glitches, according to Associate Superintendent Carolyn Teigland.
While school administrators touted the successes of remote learning as the semester gets underway amid the COVID-19 pandemic, board members made it clear that they want to get students back into in-person classes as soon as possible.
“I feel like I’m tech savvy, but more times than not I’m calling my teenager into the room to help me, so my heart goes out to these families that are just so lost,” said Christie Stephens, a board member and mom of four representing Rising Sun. “I’m going to place a priority as a board member on making sure our littlest get the human interaction that they so desperately need.”
Board President William Malesh commended the district for working to meet the state’s guidelines for reopening safely.
“We know these are tough times, but we are head and shoulders above a lot of what’s happening around the state,” he said. “We’re working on it. We would like to get everything back to normal as fast as we can.”
Under the district’s current reopening plan, students most in need of in-person instruction, such as those with special needs, language barriers or other circumstances making virtual learning more challenging, returned to schools this week. The number of students back in the classroom, currently just five percent, could rise to 25 or even 50 percent in October, a decision which will be based on state and local health indicators.
Teigland said the hybrid plan is as aggressive as the district can make it. However, a number of parents and grandparents who participated in the meeting’s public comment section were unsatisfied with the district’s reopening plan.
Erica McDaniels, a North East mother of five, said her eighth grade son was not eligible to return to schools this week despite having ADHD, which makes it difficult to focus, and epilepsy, which gives him seizures after too much screen time.
“I cannot give my children the education they deserve,” she said. “My son had a seizure yesterday while sitting in front of his computer. This is not okay.”
Another mother, Alyssa Rosie, said her first grade daughter struggles to get the teacher’s attention, frequently gets put on mute and rarely gets a response from Zoom’s ‘raise hand’ function.
“We just walked off of school for the day,” she said. “It’s not the teacher’s fault. This just isn’t working.”
Teigland said that administrators have seen a concerning number of families pull their students out of district schools, and local private schools have reported upticks in enrollment interest. She encouraged families to give CCPS a try.
She explained that a number of policies have been adapted to accommodate the range of difficulties facing returning families. Attendance is now counted in a rolling 48-hour period, so if students are unable to log in during the day but complete their work in the evenings, they will not be marked absent. Schools have modified test retake policies to ease grading concerns.
Administrators encouraged parents to reach out to their schools if they have unique circumstances that need to be worked out, saying they are using grace at this time.
“We do really think that what we’re offering is fantastic. It’s really great content. The teachers are doing an excellent job. They’re working very hard to really engage with our students,” she said. “We’re really hoping to show that we can provide what you need, so stick with us.”
COVID-19’s further effects on the district
COVID-19 was top of mind throughout the meeting.
Even in reporting out recipients of the district’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council (BEPAC) Classroom Partnership Grants, BEPAC Coordinator Kelly Keeton acknowledged that COVID-19 interrupted the process of selecting and administering the grants. BEPAC awarded $21,000 to schools throughout the district for lab equipment, studio drawing tablets, new clubs and a number of other initiatives.
Malesh opened a discussion of the district’s $207 million 2021 budget with a warning that the effects of economic slowdown would be felt sooner rather than later.
“Budgets are going to be in crisis this year,” he said. “We’re going to have to continue to work with the state of Maryland because their income is low. They already notified us that cuts are coming for this year, not future years.”
During an update on the district’s $7.1 million Chesapeake City Elementary School replacement project, which is in the last year of funding and on track to be completed on schedule, administrators joked about the prospects of teachers continuing remote learning from the brand new facility if the pandemic gets worse.
“Don’t even say it,” warned CCPS Superintendent Jeff Lawson.
While he thanked students, parents and staff for preparing for the phased hybrid reopening process, Lawson emphasized that the conditions of the pandemic could turn on a dime. Plans, he said, would have to be adaptable.
Still, he commended CCPS for taking on the challenge, adding that it would have been easier to simply keep schools closed and prepare for a year of virtual learning.
“Yesterday was the first day, and I believe we were among a handful of counties across the state of Maryland that had students in schools for face-to-face instruction,” Lawson said. “I’m immensely proud of our staff for being able to put that together.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that 7,644 out of a total 15,000 students logged into the CCPS online learning platform, but this number did not include elementary school students.
ELKTON — The Mayor and Commissioners of the Town of Elkton discussed a 24-year old law in the town’s code and promised to further look into the matter after one town resident presented recommendations to change the code section.
Town officials discussed the town’s code section on burning rubbish as part of the mayor and commissioners’ work session Wednesday afternoon. The discussion was brought about due to one town resident, Rod Burr, who serves as the president of Kensington Courts Community Association, suggesting possible changes to the code provision.
Burr said his association has been monitoring the issue of burning rubbish for some 15 years. He noted the way the code section currently reads practically burning any item would be illegal.
Code section 8.1250 states:
“It is unlawful for any person to burn any trash, rubbish or other matter out of doors within the corporate limits of the Town of Elkton. It is unlawful for any person to allow any accumulation of, or to burn any vegetable or animal matter upon any property within the Town of Elkton.”
Burr noted the phrase “or other matter” includes basically everything, while the phrase “any vegetable or animal matter” would also include such things as barbecue meats.
He stated that his intention and the intention of his association was to help draw a line on what is reasonable burning and what is not.
He referenced regulations of both Cecil County and the State of Maryland noting that he would prefer an ordinance that is more restrictive than the county, but not as restrictive as the town’s current rules.
He noted that in recent years, items such as chimineas have become more prevalent, but that as currently written, chimineas would be in violation of the law.
In support of his proposal, Burr offered the mayor and commissioners some language revisions to the code which would limit items that cannot be burned to “prohibited items” which have a specific definition based upon state and county regulations. Burr said that the residential burning of leaves and grass should be prohibited as they produce a thick dense smoke, but smaller recreational fires might be acceptable.
Elkton Mayor Rob Alt said that Town Administrator Lewis George would need to review any possible changes to the code. George noted that the regulations were originally drafted as a health and safety measure and that any modifications would not only apply to Kensington Courts, but would apply to all residents of Elkton. He noted that he was not a doctor and could not definitely say what measures may need to be in place to protect the health and safety of residents as it pertains to smoke inhalation and other similar health risks from burning rubbish.
Elkton Alliance gives updates
In other matters before the mayor and commissioners:
• Elkton Chamber and Alliance Vice President Danielle Carroll gave the board members an update regarding where the alliance currently stands, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carroll first discussed a memorandum of understanding between the alliance and the town that she said was recommended as part of the alliance’s affiliation with the Main Street Maryland program. She said the proposed MOU does clarify some issues such as the relationship between the town and the alliance. Alt said the town would do whatever it needed to do with respect to the MOU and that George would review the document.
Carroll said even with COVID-19 the alliance is doing well budget wise. She noted the alliance provided around $14,000 in emergency grants so far this year. She said the alliance also distributed the Cecil County Arts Council grant to the tune of $8,000. Carroll added that the alliance also provided some $27,000 in facade grant funds.
Carroll said that while the alliance decided not to move forward with the Elkton Fall Fest, the alliance would be offering a free Scarecrows on Main St. event as well as several events for Halloween. Carroll said the alliance is working on having a Halloween drive in movie event on Oct. 17 as well as a pumpkin carving contest.
Carroll also spoke with the mayor and commissioners about the possibility of extending downtown outdoor dining and what that might look like on an ongoing basis.
“I think it has made a difference downtown,” Alt agreed, referring to outdoor dining.
Carroll said that restaurants were still limited in the number of customers they could allow in their establishments and the outdoor dining arrangement has definitely helped them during this difficult time.
Carroll also offered a suggestion on how to continue to improve the downtown area, namely a downtown lamp post style speaker system that could play music, especially during holidays and special downtown events.
The election for two commissioner seat will be held Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Elkton Municipal Building at 100 Railroad Avenue. The two seats, which will serve until June 2024 are currently held by Charles Givens and Earl Piner. Challenging Givens and Piner will be Ed Giblin and Cody Kirk. Qualified voters of the town may opt for in-person voting or can request a mail-in ballot. Completed mail-in ballots must be received at town hall by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Ballots received after the deadline will not be counted.
PERRYVILLE — A man remained jailed Thursday after he allegedly pointed a handgun at a rival during a fight in downtown Perryville, according to Cecil County District Court records.
Investigators later determined that the suspect, Jonathan William Cyrus, 36, of the 600 block of Broad Street in Perryville, is prohibited from possessing firearms and ammunition because of “prior offenses,” court records show.
The investigation started at approximately 6:20 p.m. on Monday, when a Perryville Police Department officer and two members of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police responded to the 800 block of Aiken Avenue, after receiving a “fight-in-progress” complaint and additional information that one of the combatants had armed himself with a handgun, police reported.
When the officers arrived, the combatants were gone, police said. A bystander who witnessed the fight and the gun brandishing told officers that the two combatants rode away together in a white pickup truck equipped with a ladder rack – even though they had just fought and even though they did not know each other, police added.
“From what we’ve gathered, the parties involved in this incident were strangers. This was their first encounter,” PPD Chief Robert Nitz told the Cecil Whig on Thursday.
Officers radioed a county-wide description of the 2016 Ford pickup truck and, a short time later, PPD Officer R. Peer, lead investigator, located the vehicle parked at the rear of Cyrus’ apartment building on Broad Street and then spoke to three people who were standing behind the truck, police reported.
Investigators identified those people as Cyrus; the 43-year-old Baltimore man with whom he had fought and a 45-year-old Rising Sun woman, who was that man’s companion, according to police.
The officer noted that the man had a small amount of blood on the left side of his nose and that Cyrus had blood on several of his fingertips, court records show.
“Both men advised that they had gotten into a fight over a misunderstanding related to (the woman),” according to court records.
Those court records further allege that Cyrus purportedly made “racial and sexual comments” to the woman shortly before the fight, as he rode his bicycle by a Perryville house while the woman and the man were working on it.
At that point, the man and woman got into the Ford pickup truck and found Cyrus in the 800 block of Aiken Avenue, where the fight occurred, police reported.
But Cyrus and the man with whom he fought denied the presence of gun, court records show.
“Both men stated Mr. Cyrus was a victim of mistaken identity. When asked about the handgun, both men stated they had no knowledge of a handgun and that the caller may have mistaken Mr. Cyrus’ fishing reel as a handgun,” according to charging documents.
The officer received permission to search the pickup truck, but he found no weapons, police said. After interviewing both men, police added, the officer released them.
A few minutes later, however, when they were no longer with Cyrus, the man and woman flagged down Peer and PPD Sgt. Hoffman in the area of Maywood Avenue and Cecil Avenue and told them that Cyrus did have a handgun, court records allege.
“(The man) went on to say that he did not want to say anything initially because he feared retaliation from Mr. Cyrus,” according to charging documents.
Supplying the additional information, the man then told investigators that he got out of truck in the 800 block of Aiken Avenue and confronted Cyrus about the comments he allegedly had made regarding the woman, police said. Cyrus reportedly denied making any comments, police added.
“It was at that time, Mr. Cyrus raised his shirt, withdrew the gun from his waistband and briefly pointed the gun at (the man) while stating, ‘I’ll shoot you.’ Mr. Cyrus then placed the gun back in his waistband and stated he was a boxer and, ‘I’ll knock you the (expletive) out’,” court records allege.
The man also told investigators that when Cyrus allegedly pulled the handgun a second time, he “rushed Mr. Cyrus and, utilizing previous martial arts training, was able to disarm” him, according to charging documents.
At that point, the man reportedly cleared the handgun, ejecting several rounds onto the grass in the front yard of a residence in the 800 block of Aiken Avenue, and removed the magazine, police said. Then Cyrus, the man and the woman got into the pickup truck and drove away, before parking it at the rear of Cyrus’ Broad Street apartment building, where Peer later found them, police added.
The man said the gun had been discarded in bushes behind that Broad Street apartment building, prompting investigators to return to that scene – where they recovered a black Springfield Armory XD9 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a 16-round magazine after finding it in a “clump of bushes,” according to charging documents.
Investigators interviewed Cyrus a second time and he allegedly made comments indicating that he had, indeed, possessed a handgun during the confrontation and that he had an opportunity to shoot the man, police reported.
“During the recorded encounter, Mr. Cyrus made the following statements, including, ‘Only reason he got it from me is because I didn’t want to shoot him. I could have shot him’,” court records allege.
But Cyress denied that he had displayed the handgun, telling investigators, “I didn’t pull my gun on him. I put it in my backpack and he wrestled it from me,” according to charging documents.
Cyrus, however, admitted that he owned the handgun in question, court records show.
“Mr. Cyrus also advised that he has photographs of himself with the gun on his cellphone. Mr. Cyrus further advised that he has other guns,” court records allege.
Nitz told the Cecil Whig that investigators later confiscated an additional 9mm semi-automatic handgun and loose 9mm ammunition while conducting a court-approved search of Cyrus’ apartment.
“Our officers did an outstanding job working this case. They were able to confiscate two guns from a convicted felon who is prohibited from possessing firearms,” Nitz commented.
Cyrus is charged with first-degree assault, which is felony, and five misdemeanor offenses, including illegal possession of a firearm, reckless endangerment and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony or a crime of violence, according to court records, which further indicate that he is scheduled for an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing.
Held without bond initially, Cyrus remained in the Cecil County Detention Center on Thursday in lieu of a $10,000 bond, after his bail review hearing earlier that day, court records show.