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Dorchester County Public Schools

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Superintendent's Press Release

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An Open Letter to the Dorchester County Public Schools Community 1-15-2021

15 January 2021

An Open Letter to the Dorchester County Public Schools Community

Dear Dorchester County Public Schools Community,

Happy New Year to everyone as this is our first Superintendent video of the New Year.

In my last communication to you on November 20, 2020, I expressed a great deal of caution and concern as we had been the first Maryland county to go in reverse to Phase I on October 27, 2020, but more importantly, announced that we would begin back to school in small groups after our Thanksgiving break. We even increased the number of our students in schools with these groups as several days in December saw our daily attendance reach over 500 students. Students and staff were in all 12 schools, with success, with very few positive COVID cases in students or DCPS staff. The Executive Team of DCPS and administrative teams at our schools were extremely excited and optimistic about returning in the new year possibly in Phase II of our reopening plan. As you know, I was speaking with Dorchester County Health Department Officer Roger Harrell regularly and we were both excited that we were able to have students and staff in school during this time.

As all of you are aware, COVID 19 does not care about how optimistic you can be and began to spread throughout the county on December 30, 2020, at alarming rates daily. We readjusted our return from the new year and have since readjusted it again as we are now remaining in Phase I through the end of term II. If you have visited our DCPS COVID dashboard, you will clearly see that the uptick in positive cases within Dorchester County has included our students, and this at a time when students were not even in school, among other children. Today, the dashboard will show an increase with more student cases when updated.

Our COVID numbers across the Eastern Shore are so elevated, the Bayside Athletic Conference has now canceled the winter sports season for high school athletes, an unprecedented safety measure in Bayside Conference history.

As I speak with parents, students, and our community, I continue to be extremely disappointed as we all want our students back in school.

We are so concerned about our present state of students not in school that we reconvened our re-opening committee chairs and are making a slight shift to allow every DCPS student who wishes to come to school be able to see their teacher in person at least 1 day a week and for our D group to return for 4 days a week. The bottom line is DCPS is trying to have approximately 25% of an individual schools’ population in school from Tuesday to Friday with Mondays remaining asynchronous.

This is a shift from our initial reopening plan and had to be submitted to MSDE for reapproval as well as an okay from Dorchester County Health Officer Roger Harrell. Believe me, Mr. Harrell wants all of our students back into school as soon as safely possible and agrees with this plan of action. Additionally, we expect quick approval from MSDE on this modification to our plan.

We hope to begin this new hybrid format on Tuesday, February 2, 2021, if health metrics allow. Again, Dorchester County has some of the worst numbers in the state in positivity rate and case rate at this time.

With this announcement, I’m sure you have numerous questions which our schools and website should answer. Your individual school will be contacting you about what day your child can attend.

On a positive note, as the governor announced yesterday, Maryland is in 1B of the vaccination program and those DCPS employees who have chosen to take the vaccine are scheduled for their first vaccination on January 29, 2021, with the 2nd dose scheduled on February 26, 2021. Those 2 days will be asynchronous days as we do not have enough staff to cover synchronous and in-person learning on either Friday when DCPS employees will be vaccinated.

I respect every decision our employees have had to make in regard to whether to take or not take the vaccine.

Hopefully, with these new plans, DCPS will begin to move out of the COVID shock we have all been dealing with and the third term and the elementary trimester will be a positive movement towards normalcy to DCPS and all our Dorchester County families.

As I did with my last video in November, this is my alert to everyone, even as I am cautiously optimistic with our new plans.

We can only advance with our phases of the re-opening plan if our staff, students, parents, and the community follow the COVID safety protocols suggested by the CDC guidelines consistently. Our recent spike in COVID positives happened because holiday excursions, large gatherings, or family gatherings consistently were spreaders of COVID positives within the county and has advanced the positivity rate to unsafe levels not seen at all during the pandemic.

An additional alert for parents and the community is to be ready and flexible as we return to school. As we try to bring approximately 25% of our students back to school, COVID positive spikes and outbreaks could create a possibility that an individual school could be closed for upwards of two weeks while the rest of the district continues with in-person learning. We will do everything we can to avoid such an occurrence but keep in mind, in our COVID world, this is still a real possibility.

I am pleading with our parents to communicate with your school involving the virtual learning platforms being presented to your child. We are constantly trying to improve and enhance the success of all our students while asynchronous and synchronous learning.

Again, I wish for everyone to remain safe, have a great weekend.

W. David Bromwell

Superintendent

Dorchester County Public Schools