3 February, 2022
Due to the rise in Omicron COVID cases, new safety measures were implemented by Howard County upon return from winter break. These precautions included limited attendance to sports events (four tickets per athlete), strictly enforced mask mandates, and a new bathroom policy allowing only two people in a restroom at once. These safety measures are being enforced by teachers and administrators.
“At this point, we are focusing our efforts to implement mitigation efforts that allow school buildings to remain open for in-person instruction and supports during this current surge,” said Brian W. Bassett, Howard County Public School System’s director of communication and engagement, in an email to the Raider Review. These new rules were a step toward making sure that the spread of COVID in HCPSS schools is eliminated or significantly reduced.
Mr. Motley stated that students are expected to be wearing their mask above their nose at all times, and failure to do so will result in being dismissed from school. The bathroom rule is being monitored by administrators who will be “monitoring the bathrooms and popping in.” “We can’t be everywhere 24/7. It’s just impossible. So as I’m walking the halls I will pop in and make sure that there are only two in there and that sort of thing,” he said. Some students expressed differing opinions on the staff’s ability to keep two people at a time in bathrooms. “I feel like especially with how many kids are in the school, I don’t know how feasible it is,” said junior Ayo Awofeso.
The new protocol has had a significant impact on how things are handled in the hallways. When walking the halls, you will see various administrators reminding students to wear their masks correctly. The enforcement of mask mandates is a topic that was touched on in the recent presentation given in social studies classes. When in class, the responsibility of enforcing mask mandates falls on the teachers.
“I treat my students like young adults, and so far it hasn’t been an issue. When a student forgets to wear their mask correctly, all I have to do is ask and they fix the problem,” said forensics teacher Mr. Clark.
English teacher Ms. Stackhouse said, “I don’t know that what I have done has changed very much. I do feel far more supported in enforcing keeping students’ noses covered at all times.” She added that now students are more aware that there are serious consequences for not wearing masks correctly.
In some departments, COVID has impacted the way that classes are run. Mr. Clark said, “It has changed how we do labs from a system standpoint, meaning that we have to account for cleaning things and sanitizing things. It’s not that we do less labs, it’s that a lot of things go into planning a lab for the kids.” Ms. Stackhouse stated that although how she runs her class has not changed much, she did add wearing masks properly to her class policies that were created with her ninth graders.
Although efforts are being made to keep schools running in person, preparations have been made to ensure that if schools have to go online, Atholton will be ready. Mr. Motley said, “We have been told to prepare in the event that our school needs to move to virtual, so if our cases start increasing, teachers, their meet codes, everything needs to be set into place to be able to pivot to COVID virtual if necessary, so we’ve been given ample warning to be able to do that.”
Air filters were installed in all classrooms, and KN-19 masks were recently distributed to students, accompanied by an email sent out by Mr. Motley, who gave instructions on how to properly wear and take care of them. As new precautions are being taken and new information is discovered each day, HCPSS is working closely with Howard County Health Department professionals. These people offer advice and guidance as new decisions are being made.
Howard County is taking important steps to ensure the safety of school staff. An announcement was made that HCPSS faculty members and their families have been offered free COVID testing at various school and community locations. The location is rotating and the schedule is available online on the HCPSS website.
Brian W. Basset reminded students and staff to check the Health and Safety webpage for Howard County Public School Systems for updates. He summed up what seems to be a common attitude towards the situation: “I wish I could predict what the pandemic will look like in a year, a month, or even next week. Unfortunately, that has proven a very difficult thing to do. We will continue to make the best decisions possible with the information we have at the time.”