ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — Anne Arundel County Public Schools reasserted its decision to start classes virtually to slow the spread of coronavirus. The reaffirmation came hours after Gov. Larry Hogan urged schools to move toward some type of in-person learning.
"Since we began discussing the reopening of schools, we have said we would proceed aggressively but prudently to get our students and staff back into school buildings in a safe manner," Superintendent George Arlotto said in a Thursday evening press release. "We will begin the school year virtually because the metrics do not put us in a position to consider full in-person instruction at this time."
Arlotto said the school system plans to resume some small, in-person classes for students with special needs. All other students in grades one through 12 start online classes on Sept. 8. Pre-K and kindergarten classes have staggered virtual start dates specific to each school.
"There is broad and overwhelming agreement that finding a way to begin safely returning children to classrooms must be a top priority," Hogan said at a Thursday press conference. "There is no substitute for in-person instruction."
All school districts had to submit their plans for the upcoming school year to the Maryland State Department of Education by Aug. 14. Eight jurisdictions submitted reopening plans that prohibited all in-person instruction, Hogan said.
"This is simply not acceptable," Hogan said. "It is not the right thing for our Maryland children."
Though Hogan encourages schools to get back to the classroom, he will not require them to. Schools that choose to reopen must maintain social distancing and enforce a universal mask policy.
State officials recommend that counties track their positivity rate and new infections per capita to determine whether they can safely reopen. They say jurisdictions should aim to keep their seven-day positivity rate below 5 percent. They also advise districts to shoot for a weekly average of less than five new coronavirus cases-per-day per 100,000 people.
When a region meets both of those metrics, it is probably safe to partially reopen schools, health officials say.
Anne Arundel County's most recent data clock the positivity rate at 2.93 percent, which is .03 percent less than the statewide clip. The jurisdiction has been under the 5 percent benchmark since June 17. The local positivity rate topped out at 28.24 percent on April 16.
While the county meets the percent positive guideline, it does not meet the new infections per capita benchmark. Over the last week, Anne Arundel County has averaged 7.97 new cases-per-day per 100,000 people.
The county has the fifth most coronavirus infections in the state, with 8,132. The virus has killed 222 county residents.
Anne Arundel's coronavirus-related hospitalizations have slowed as of late. The virus had 22 Anne Arundel County residents in the hospital on Wednesday. That is the lowest since April 3 when 21 locals were hospitalized.
Fewer than 50 coronavirus patients have been in the hospital at a time since June 14. The county's recent high of 49 hospitalizations came on July 24. More than 170 people were hospitalized in Anne Arundel County on the pandemic's April 21 peak.
"We are also continuing to plan for the logistical implementation of a safe hybrid learning model across our county as quickly as possible," Arlotto said, noting that he spoke with the Department of Health after Hogan's announcement. "That will not happen overnight, and it will require the collaborative efforts and willingness of our families, our teachers and other employees, and our contractors."
Patch Editor Elizabeth Janney contributed reporting to this article.
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