In this May 21, 2021 file photo, a person holds a mask while walking outside in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO
Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) will continue a safety-first strategy as officials prepare to welcome students back to school in the midst of a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an interview with NBC television, PGCPS Superintendent Monica Goldson recently said all students, faculty and staff will continue with required masking this Fall, a policy that has been in place for more than a year. “Masking will be required for all school personnel, students and visitors to PGCPS school sites, regardless of vaccination status,” emphasized a PGCPS school spokesperson.
Goldson is strongly encouraging students to get vaccinated before the September 8 start of the Fall 2021 school year. “We were the hardest hit in the state of Maryland. Our numbers were extremely high for positivity rates. We remained in a virtual learning environment longer than any other district in the state of Maryland, “said Goldson.
“What I want to do is make sure we don’t go back to that. And the best way to do that is through vaccinations and wearing a mask,” Goldson said recently.
With rapidly rising positivity rates for the Delta variant hit, Prince George’s County officials are leaving nothing to chance as preparations are made for in-person learning this September. Only half of all students eligible for vaccination in Prince George’s County have taken the shot. School officials are concerned that too many students 12 and over remain unprotected from Covid-19.
To try and increase the vaccination rate, PGCPS is hosting free vaccination clinics throughout the month of August in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Health and Giant Foods. Vaccination sites will be held at elementary schools throughout the county.
All PGCPS schools will be open for in-person instruction five days a week. However, Goldson has left the door open for virtual learning for a select group of students. “We understand that families of children who are not yet eligible for a vaccine may have concerns about sending their children back to school.” Goldson said to parents during a recent virtual town hall meeting.
Parents and guardians of students in grades K-6 were invited to apply for a limited number of on-line learning spaces earlier this summer. The K-6 program will be evaluated at the end of the semester, depending on the availability of a vaccine for younger children. For grades 7-12, PGCPS will host an on-line campus, accommodating up to 700 students who “thrive in an on-line learning environment” according to the PGCPS website.
National and state leaders have been pushing hard for students to return to full time, in-person instruction this Fall. “It’s our responsibility—as leaders and as educators—to do everything in our power to help our students not only catch up, but to excel,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona during a visit to Baltimore’s Graceland Park O’Donnell Heights Elementary-Middle School this week.
“But to do this, we need to do everything we can to get as many students as possible back to learn in-person, full-time this fall,” Cardona added.
Gov. Larry Hogan, has not budged from his mandate last Spring for schools to return to in-person learning. “I will do everything I possibly can do within the law to push to get all of Maryland’s children back into the classrooms,” he said.
Hogan has not re-instituted a state-wide mask mandate, even though Maryland has seen the sharpest rise in Covid-19 positive cases since May. “Get the damn vaccine,” he responded.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has re-instituted a mask mandate for the county starting Sunday August 8. The mandate extends to all indoor public locations at all times, regardless of vaccination status. The new mask mandate includes offices, restaurants, retail stores, entertainment spaces, and conference centers.
The Prince George’s County Department of Public Health reported a 74.6% increase in new Covid-19 cases the week of July 25-31st. The Centers for Disease Control updated their mask guidance at the end of July recommending fully vaccinated persons resume wearing masks indoors in areas where there is substantial Covid-19 transmission.
The Delta variant was responsible for more than 80% of new Covid-19 case by the end of July, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Delta is more virulent and transmissible than earlier variants of the virus. It has caused sickness and death primarily in unvaccinated persons, although a small number of breakthrough cases have been reported in vaccinated people across the US.
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