CECIL COUNTY — Cecil County Public Schools saw a massive increase in student and staff COVID-19 cases and quarantines last week, coinciding with a spike across the nation.
Last week, 183 – around 9% of staff members – were quarantined, with 122 positive cases. 732 – around 5% – of students were quarantined, with 211 positive cases. The quarantines are a marked increase from previous weeks, with the week of Dec. 13-17 seeing 238 student quarantines.
Cecil County Classroom Teachers Association President Lori Hrinko said staff members are covering for each other during their planning periods, especially as staff quarantines are exacerbated by a shortage of substitutes.
Hrinko said in the past that when there is no teacher able to cover a course during a planning period, two classes are sometimes combined so one teacher can instruct both groups.
CCPS Assistant Superintendent Joe Buckley said instructional coaches and coordinators have also been working to cover classes for teachers who are quarantining.
In response to the increased demands on teachers, CCPS added five early dismissal days to the school calendar.
“There’s an increased workload this year and trying to fit everything in is not happening,” Hrinko said during a school board meeting in Dec. “That time is really going to be beneficial for our folks so they can get all the work done that needs to be done.”
The district also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the CCCTA that will compensate teachers $35 per hour for covering classes during their planning time. Substitute teachers will also receive a $500 monthly bonus if they work at least 15 days per month.
Buckley said the uptick of numbers in the school system is a reflection of the surge across the state, and that in-school transmission remains low. From Nov. 10 to Dec. 8, out of 128 student quarantines, only around 3.9% resulted in a positive case from in-school exposure.
“We’re doing everything we can to mitigate it, trying to keep people away from one another, not sitting together, wearing our masks, the cleaning processes we have in place,” Buckley said. “Everything is in place for us in terms of mitigation strategies.”
CCPS continued with in-person learning in all schools last week, though other districts in the area, such as the Christina School District in Delaware, moved some schools to online instruction because of the surge in cases. The majority of the country’s over 90,000 public schools have remained open, with 5409 public schools, according to data from the website Burbio.com‘s school-opening tracker, moving away from regular in-person instruction.
CCPS is receiving a new shipment of Chromebooks and power cords in case of a switch to remote learning, and to provide quarantine students with more resources.
Currently, if a child is quarantined they can access learning activities through Schoology/SeeSaw.
Students may return to school five days after receiving a positive test if they have been fever free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication and their symptoms have improved. In a close contact situation, those who are unvaccinated or six months removed from their second shot have to quarantine for five days. People with a booster do not have to quarantine but should wear a mask for 10 days.
“We just need everybody to do their part to keep safety measures in place,” Hrinko said. “That’s what’s going to allow us to keep kids in school.”
CCPS has not yet resumed student COVID-19 testing after experiencing a shortage of tests. CCPS plans to resume testing in the near future, pending the additional ship of tests. Cecil County Health Department currently offers a variety of COVID-19 testing and vaccine clinics. For a full calendar go to https://cecilcountyhealth.org/coronavirus/vaccination/.
Buckley said that around 85% of CCPS staff members are vaccinated.
Editor’s note: this article was clarified to show that CCPS only suspended COVID-19 testing for students, staff are still being tested.