Somerset County Public Schools, private schools, look to 2021 to restart in-person classes

WESTOVER — Somerset County’s COVID-19 statistics continue to be above safe levels for educational officials forcing the public schools to remain closed to in-person learning until 2021.

Students who elected to return to the classroom this semester will continue with virtual learning through Friday, Dec. 18, with classes resuming Monday, Jan. 4.

The last day for in-person learning was Friday, Nov. 6 — the end of the first week when juniors and seniors were invited back into the high schools. Greenwood and Princess Anne Elementary schools, however, had closed Oct. 30 because of a spike in cases in Princess Anne.

In all some 56% of students opted to return to the classroom with various grades phased in every two weeks starting Oct. 5.

It was hoped students would return after Thanksgiving, but that date was moved to Dec. 7, which was also scratched off the calendar.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Gaddis said this will give time for the positivity rate to get at or below 5% and the per 100,000 infection rate to get below 15.

At the time the decision was made the positivity rate in Somerset County was over 18% while the infection rate was nearly 94 per 100,000. The state was reporting an average of 6.9% and 34, respectively, for the same time period.

Meanwhile at Holly Grove Christian School, it had started in-person learning as scheduled this school year and was successful in continuing in that format until COVID cases began being reported among family and at least one student. It closed to in-person learning at the end of the day Thursday, Dec. 3 and students — who had already been Google Classroom enabled — were to stay connected and continue learning online until the start of Christmas break. They are to be back in the classroom Jan. 4.

Students at Living Hope Christian School, which goes to grade 10, reported to parents that “a couple of students” were awaiting test results. Barring no new positive tests, Christmas break would come one week early and the school now in its second year would close at the end of the day Friday, Dec. 11 instead of Dec. 18. It too plans to reopen Jan. 4.

School Senior Administrator M. LeBron Palmer, like Dr. Gaddis, cited the county’s “drastic increase” in the positivity rate compared to the state average for coming to this decision.

Not just Somerset County, but Tangier Combined School remained closed, with the Accomack County Superintendent announcing they would transition to virtual learning at least through Dec. 14. It was not known if the virus was among staff or students, or simply on the island as has been reported in Crisfield.

“Somerset must be at or below 5% test positivity rate and 15 per 100,000 case rate benchmark for seven days before we can safely reopen,” Dr. Gaddis said.

He urged those traveling during the holidays to follow CDC guidelines — and to be tested — with Washington High School’s gymnasium opened for use by the Somerset County Health Department for scheduled walk-in testing.

SCPS tracks local and school health metrics and has them as a link on its website, www.somerset.k12.md.us.

“All students who had been receiving in-person instruction at Somerset County Public Schools will continue with virtual learning through the remaining school days in December 2020,” schools spokeswoman Victoria Miele stated.

During the closure, student meals continue to be available for curbside pickup at select schools between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. each school day, excluding holidays.