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Worcester County adopts state of emergency plan for schools

The Worcester County Board of Education unanimously approved the adoption of the prolonged state of emergency plan, a preventative measure if events such as the COVID-19 pandemic force school closures again.

SMHS-first day '23-'24

Snow Hill High School students are pictured in a classroom on the first day of the 2023-24 academic year.
Photo courtesy Worcester County Public Schools

By Tara Fischer, Staff Writer 

The Worcester County Board of Education unanimously approved the adoption of the prolonged state of emergency plan, a preventative measure if events like the COVID-19 pandemic force school closures. 

According to Coordinator of Public Relations Carrie Sterrs, who gave the presentation, Maryland requires that each county secures an outline to guide school personnel in proceeding if they are met with an educationally disruptive situation, like the 2020 pandemic. The standards will be revisited every two years. 

“This is meant to be a flexible plan,” Sterrs said. “We do not know what kind of state of emergency could potentially be called.” 

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) defines a state of emergency as “preventing regular, in-person attendance at public schools for at least 14 consecutive school days.” 

The plan addresses staffing and personnel, instruction, student assessment and learning support, social-emotional support, community communication, technology, nutritional and health services, and directions for returning to in-person.

The staffing and personnel section of the guidelines ensures that everyone adheres to their normal job responsibilities while also building adaptability depending on the situation’s specific needs. 

Educators, for instance, must “actively monitor teacher-student and teacher-parent communication channels to ensure questions and requests for support are addressed within the seven-and-a-half-hour workday.” 

The student instruction aspect of the plan requires that education does not suffer, regardless of the mode of delivery, like virtual or hybrid learning. The outline also ensures that all children have access to necessary school materials while paying particular attention to how students with disabilities receive their services. The regular attendance policy will remain the same. 

The state of emergency framework guarantees that instructional content will be maintained so students do not fall below Maryland’s college and career readiness standards. 

The learning support plan includes the “administration of regular assessments, process for establishing benchmarks at the start and the end of virtual education as well as periodically throughout the course, and provisions of additional learning supports for students identified as having learning loss.” 

Sterrs said that technology, laid out in the emergency document, is something teachers and students are now comfortable with, thanks to the previous school closures and the adoption of updated devices. 

Additionally, the district’s library system provides mobile hotspots for children and educators requiring at-home internet connectivity. 

Nutrition and health services will also be available in the event of a prolonged emergency. With the approval of the Coordinator of Food Services and the Maryland State Department of Education, curbside meal pick-up may be offered. 

The plan outlines a system for resuming regular operations. Stage one is virtual learning, stage two is hybrid learning, with the students who most require face-to-face instruction returning first, and stage three is hybrid learning with an alternating week model. The final phase is an entire in-person mode of education. 

“We have this structure to work from in the event it is needed, but it is flexible if changes must be made dependent on the type of emergency,” Sterrs said. 

This story appears in the June 27, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.