By MADDY VITALE
When it comes to the Ocean City school district, it has been ahead of many districts to return the students to the classrooms full time, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
While other public schools closed due to the number of COVID-19 cases in some counties throughout the state, Ocean City schools kept their doors open, at least partially, offering students a hybrid learning model mixing in-person and virtual learning.
And on Wednesday, students, parents and staff celebrated the first day of being back on a five-days-a-week class schedule, for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, since the pandemic hit last March.
“This is what we’ve been working toward for months,” Schools Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor said in a news release. “Seeing the students here, in school — back where they should be — it gives us hope that we’re on the right path.”
Grade K-5 teachers began livestreaming lessons during normal school hours for virtual students, while hybrid students came together inside the classrooms, the release said.
Grades 6-8 will start concurrent teaching on Feb. 8, while the high school has already implemented livestreaming.
The district announced its reopening plan for consecutive five days of in-person instruction for the K-5 students three weeks ago.
School officials attributed the reopening success, in part, to the work of the Board of Education’s recently formed COVID-19 committee.
The committee is headed by Dr. Patrick Kane, a medical doctor and vice president of the school board.
On Wednesday, officials noted that a bit of normalcy may have returned.
Students walked single file with their parents into the Primary and Intermediate schools ready for the start of a normal type of school week.
“Both the parents and the students seemed overwhelmingly excited to be returning to five days a week of classroom instruction,” School Board President Joseph Clark explained. “I am thankful to the administrators and the staff for making this happen.”
During Board of Education meetings over several months, parents urged the district to do everything possible to offer, once again, a five-day school week.
“The community has been loud and clear that this is what they want from the district at this time,” Clark said. “Parents are trying to get back to work and the students want to return to school five days a week.”
Clark emphasized that what it comes down to is the students.
“It’s about our students having the opportunity to return to five days of instruction,” he said. “As a board, we are very hopeful that all will go as planned.”
Last week, Dr. Kane discussed the statistics and data that influenced the board’s decision to go back to in-person instruction, noting that the “in-school transmission rate is very low for students in the Ocean City School District when appropriate guidelines are followed.”
Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Taylor has sent out letters to school families and they have been posted on the school’s website, updating them on the ever-evolving situation.
She sent out two letters in January to parents and staff to prepare for a Feb. 1 reopening, but the opening was delayed due to inclement weather until Wednesday.
The letter offered information on new protocols and actions the district is taking to accomplish the transition, and to reassure the safety of students and staff.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the district has strictly adhered to all CDC guidelines. Now, the district is offering increased protection and purchased more PPE, according to the school news release.
The Primary and Intermediate schools put Plexiglas barriers on each desk and table, and added signage throughout the buildings to remind students to practice safe behavior while in and out of the schools.
Currently there is a waiting list for students who are in the Virtual Academy to get back to in-class instruction.
Clark addressed this.
“We want to get every kid in, but unfortunately we don’t have the room yet,” Clark said. “We care about every student and we want to make sure they all get back in safely in there and under the CDC and County Health Department guidelines.”
The next step, if all goes well, is offering five days of in-person instruction to the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at the Intermediate School. After that, the high school would follow, Clark said.
However, it is a matter of space for social distancing in the classrooms. The Board of Education has discussed options for added space, but nothing has been put in place as of yet.
“We knew we could do this,” Clark said of the reopening plan currently in place. “We will see what happens. If things go well, then we will hopefully open more grades to five days of in-person instruction.”
Updates will be posted via SwiftK-12 messaging, social media, as well as the school district website at oceancityschools.org