Friday, March 5, 2021

Virus variant races through Italy, especially among children

Italian health officials say the variant of the coronavirus discovered in Britain is prevalent among the country's infected schoolchildren and warn that the curve of contagion is showing signs of “robust” uptick

Italy, a nation of 60 million people where COVID-19 first erupted in the West in February 2020, has registered nearly 3 million confirmed cases.

Speranza announced stricter directives, contained in the first anti-pandemic decree of new Italian Premier Mario Draghi, aimed at trying to “govern this curve of contagion,” especially among school-age children...

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Md. Republican lawmaker seeks to create a statewide virtual public school

 As Maryland students begin to slowly trickle back into classrooms this month, one state lawmaker is trying to establish a statewide virtual public school in Maryland.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) presented a bill that would allow local school boards or higher education institutions to establish a full-time virtual public school without approval from the state superintendent of schools...

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Family sues MCPS, alleging that special education son was assaulted in bathroom

...The family, unnamed in court documents, says that their young son, who attended an elementary school, has significant cognitive and developmental disabilities, and was taught in a “self-contained classroom” with only other special education students.

He, and others in the classroom, were supposed to each be supervised by a one-to-one aide but were not, court documents say, allowing another student in the class to “initiate a pattern of abuse … physically, emotionally, socially, psychologically, and mentally.”..

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Repeating


When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate...

Monday, March 1, 2021

Guest Post: Open letter to MoCoBoe in Support of the Montgomery County, MD SRO Program

Published on February 27, 2021

Dear Board of Education Members,

The first priorities of government are public safety and public education, and without public safety, public education suffers – we all know that students cannot learn in an unsafe school environment. My name is Susan Burkinshaw. Many of you know that I have been a proponent of the School Resource Officer (SRO) Program since I became involved with MCCPTA and became an advocate for public safety and school safety and security in 2008. I am one of the authors of the 2010 MCCPTA SRO Resolution that equitably resolved to have an SRO in each high school in MCPS so all schools would enjoy the benefits of the program equally.

You should also know by now that the SRO program is a best practice in community policing. The SRO Program supports efficiencies for the police department, for school administration and for students, their families and the surrounding school neighborhoods. SROs allow access to a police officer dedicated to the school buildings to address reporting and investigations not afforded by beat officers and their disparate shift schedules (as compared to daily school schedules). Calls for service are also significantly reduced by having a dedicated SRO in a school building.

Please do not turn a blind eye to the fact that the MCPS principals have unanimously come out in support of the SRO Program – they are the ones who rely on these officers in their school buildings to keep their staff and students safe every day and they can attest to the benefits directly.

As a community member I am comforted knowing that there is an officer in the school building a quarter mile from my home to keep students safe from both internal and external threats, while allowing the rest of the department to patrol the community and provide backup for the SRO as needed – with upwards of 3,000 students and staff in many of our high schools on a normal school day, this is an extremely efficient use of police resources and tax dollars. These resource benefits are compounded by the added benefit to students of SROs maintaining positive relationships and contact with students, participating in Restorative Justice Circles, providing wellness checks and mental health EAP for students in crisis, leading school drills, and the myriad other functions they perform daily.

It should also be noted that our county’s SROs are majority minority – there are 26 total SROs in the program with demographic composition as follows: 10 Black males, 5 Black females, 1 Hispanic male, 8 White males, and 2 White females. If you speak to these officers directly you will find out that they are in the program because they want to help students – not to arrest them for no reason.

The debate about eliminating the SRO program has stemmed from political unrest and the resulting anti-police sentiment nationally without looking at facts and hard data from right here in Montgomery County. The real question is, are minority students being targeted? If so, that should be a question for you and the school administration, not the SRO program. Ninety-seven percent of SRO arrests were initiated by school administrators. Eliminating the SRO program without hard evidence against it is extremely shortsighted and dangerous.

Since reported incidents are down historically across the county since the implementation of the SRO program (a total of 136,832 students were enrolled in MCPS during the 2001-02 school year and 7,104 serious incidents were reported; in the 2010-11 school year, with 144,064 students enrolled, 4,475 serious incidents were reported; In 2018-9, the most recent reported year, there were 162,680 students and 3,447 [pending confirmation] serious incidents, down another 30%), since most arrests are driven by MCPS, and when data is adjusted to reflect individual school populations and disaggregated, the bias against minorities becomes less statistically significant, it becomes clear that there is less of a problem statistically than opponents would have you believe.

Vocal support for the SRO program is generally much quieter than the knee-jerk politically motivated attacks against it have been. Many students and families, minority or otherwise, who have the most potential to directly benefit from the prevention and intervention methodologies provided by the SRO program (i.e., those being recruited into gangs, such as MS-13; those whose suicide was prevented by an SRO; or those who are victims of domestic abuse) might be less likely to testify in favor of the program because of the sensitivity of their individual circumstances. Add to that the prevention and intervention benefits that cannot be measured (since there is never statistical data on incidents that did not occur and/or were diffused because of the presence of an SRO), it would be irresponsible of the Board of Education and/or our County Council to eliminate the SRO program without concrete evidence against it.

I would further assert that the need for mental health interventions and supports is undeniably great – yet it is not mutually exclusive of the county's SRO program. Both are needed, especially following our collective national and global experience in 2020. Moreover, eliminating the SRO program before or shortly after most students return to school after a year of virtual learning could be catastrophic.

I caution you that the SRO program must not be reduced or eliminated until such time that we have those additional mental health resources in place, AND/OR we have concrete evidence that explicitly supports any potential benefit of reducing it. Until then there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater – if there are problems with bias against minority students in our school system, we need to address those issues and prove that they are caused by the SRO Program before this best practice program is eliminated. The SRO program data clearly supports a reduction in the number of serious incidents, it is unanimously supported by MCPS principals and it is a proven best practice in community policing nationally.

The numbers don’t lie and MCPS School Safety and Security data proves the SRO program works here in Montgomery County, Maryland and in Montgomery County Public Schools – a 51% decrease in the number of serious incidents annually in MCPS with a student population increase of 19% since the inception of the program should speak for itself.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan Burkinshaw

Germantown, MD

🧵1/ The #CDC update today (2/26) on "Ventilation in Schools and Child Care Programs" looks like good progress. Details on #ventilation, #filtration, #bettermasks, w/ helpful links. Seems they're listening to @kprather88 @j_g_allen @CorsIAQ and others?

🧵1/ The #CDC update today (2/26) on "Ventilation in Schools and Child Care Programs" looks like good progress.

Details on #ventilation#filtration#bettermasks, w/ helpful links. Seems they're listening to @kprather88 @j_g_allen @CorsIAQ and others?
2/ The relatively short #CDC page seems to have more succinct, yet clear #K12 guidance & connection to other pages of support.

Though I admit, I haven't digested yet fully. What are your takes? (also e.g. @jljcolorado @linseymarr @ProfCharlesHaas @Don_Milton @ShellyMBoulder
3/ I was pleased to see early mention that "Wearing a well-fitting, multi-layer mask helps prevent virus particles from entering the air or being breathed in by the person wearing the mask."

(BTW, need for good fit implies aerosols)

Links (twice) here:
4/ The new #CDC doc then goes on to say (w/ various specific tips & links):

* bring in "as much outdoor air as possible"
* ensure HVAC settings are maximizing ventilation
* filter and/or clean the air
* use exhaust fans
* open windows in transport vehicles 
5/ I was happy to see specific mention at least to "consider":

* portable air cleaners that use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, and
* ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI)

BTW, if you're looking for HEPA filtration, see:
6/ And the bit about opening windows on transportation vehicles is important too. I think this is an overlooked area & where easy measures (e.g. cracked windows) can make a huge impact (for school or any transport).

E.g. some simple modeling by @CorsIAQ:
7/ Though "recommendations" that have no teeth are still going to be met by some communities who "feel" differently or who don't seek expertise to implement changes. Need to keep advocating for communities to put *good* preventative measures into practice.
8/ For example, there are lots of well-meaning administrators who will buy products made available.

One tip: Don't rely on plexiglass barriers to prevent airborne spread. Small aerosol particles flow around like smoke.
9/ Another tip: Put more resources into cleaning the air than cleaning surfaces. Evidence suggests the spread is more strongly driven by airborne aerosols than surface contamination. Buy HEPA filters, not air foggers.

Nice article by @dyanilewis
10/ Yet another tip: Buy & mount #CO2 sensors for ~$150 each as a real-time measure of how well ventilation is matched to the occupancy in your rooms (basically a proxy of "rebreathed" air, or how much air from someone's exhale is now in your lungs).
11/ Also lots of good data emerging on the efficacy of #HEPA filtration in settings like schools. See link above for a guide to choose the right type of air filtration for your needs. But rely on the filtration, and don't buy with extras like ionization.
12/ As far as portable, in-room portable #filtration, one option is to build relatively inexpensive #DIY options for ~$40:
13/ But along w/ ventilation & filtration, don't forget critical strategies of mandating good, tight-fitting masks and physical distancing.

Indoor lunch time is especially risky, b/c masks are off. See guidance e.g. by @j_g_allen et al via:

14/ Loose-fitting masks allow aerosols to flow around through gaps. High-quality, tight-fitting masks control the source of infectious aerosols.

For more motivation & basis for updating your mask see🧵 e.g.:
15/ Investing in the improvement of indoor air quality in classrooms & #K12 schools will have strong, positive benefit not just during respiratory virus pandemics, but during all other times as well. Now is the time to listen to experts and do it right. 
(I meant to add in somewhere that the CDC update doc was HT @Concern14923094 & @DocJeffD, so Thx!) 

Montgomery College classes to stay virtual into fall

Due to uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to begin planning early, Montgomery College announced on Thursday that its classes will largely remain virtual through the fall semester.

In a message to the school community, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard wrote that it is important to make the difficult decision now.

“Because of the complexity of class scheduling, student registration, and financial aid processing, and assignment of faculty to thousands of class sections, the College must make operational decisions earlier than some other institutions,” Pollard wrote...

Friday, February 26, 2021

CDC Study Finds Teachers ‘Central’ To COVID Transmission When Distancing, Masks Not Enforced

When schools don’t consistently enforce precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing, teachers can play a “central” role in COVID-19 transmission, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released this week.

Over an eight-week period that included 24 in-person school days, educator-to-educator and educator-to-student transmission in one district contributed to half of the 31 cases of the virus linked to schools, researchers found. Of 69 additional family members of the teachers and students, 18 tested positive. The study was conducted in six elementary sites in the Marietta City Schools, outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

While schools employed plastic dividers between desks, students were less than 3 feet apart in the classroom. And even though the district mandated mask use, students ate lunch in their classrooms, which might have contributed to the spread, according to the study. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said earlier this month that “breaches in mask wearing” can increase spread...


A Shady Grove Middle School staff member has been placed on administrative leave while the school district investigates his involvement in an incident during a virtual class session on Monday that was “sexual in nature,” according to a Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) spokeswoman.

Principal Alana Murray wrote in a letter sent to parents on Tuesday that the “staff member was seen on screen in a breakout room engaged in inappropriate behavior” during an eighth grade class. 

The incident was reported to law enforcement and the MCPS central office, Murray told parents — and recorded by students and posted on social media...

@Theresa_Chapple @Epi_D_Nique and I collaborated to provide a user-friendly review of the CDC’s study on #Covid_19 spread in elementary #schools in one Georgia district. This study is important because of its focus on young children and community spread. HappyThreadreading!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Police say no charges against school employee caught in inappropriate sexual behavior during video link with students

A paraeducator at Shady Grove Middle School who was seen masturbating on camera during a virtual link with students won’t be charged criminally, a police spokesman said on Thursday. Marc Schack, a paraeducator who works with special education students, told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that he didn’t realize his behavior had been captured on video until a reporter asked him about it. Schack said he thought the Zoom video connection had been disabled... 

Hogan announced a new executive order that will require masks to be worn in all Maryland classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, auditoriums and gyms.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Everyone over the age of five will be required to wear masks in classrooms and any other “school setting where interaction with others is likely,” according to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Hogan announced a new executive order that will require masks to be worn in all Maryland classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, auditoriums and gyms...

55 cases out of 81 people attending exercise classes at a gym, despite 6-ft distancing and some mask use. Ventilation was not assessed.

 <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">55 cases out of 81 people attending exercise classes at a gym, despite 6-ft distancing and some mask use. Ventilation was not assessed. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Linsey Marr (@linseymarr) <a href="">February 24, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

COVID-19 Outbreak Among Attendees of an Exercise Facility — Chicago, Illinois, August–September 2020


What is already known about this topic?

Increased respiratory exertion facilitates SARS-CoV-2 transmission; outbreaks linked to indoor activities have been reported.

What is added by this report?

In August 2020, 55 COVID-19 cases were identified among 81 attendees of indoor high-intensity classes at a Chicago exercise facility. Twenty-two (40%) persons with COVID-19 attended on or after the day symptoms began. Most attendees (76%) wore masks infrequently, including persons with (84%) and without COVID-19 (60%).

What are the implications for public health practice?

To reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission in fitness facilities, attendees should wear a mask, including during high-intensity activities when ≥6 ft apart. In addition, facilities should enforce physical distancing, improve ventilation, and encourage attendees to isolate after symptom onset or receiving a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result and to quarantine after a potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and while awaiting test results. Exercising outdoors or virtually could further reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk.

Child protection nonprofit alleges 'manipulative' upselling with math game Prodigy

NBC NEWS:  “Schools are signing up for this and not understanding that the commercial pressure is going to happen when kids are at home,” said one expert.

The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, a nonprofit advocacy group, on Friday accused a popular math game used in thousands of elementary schools of using “deceptive marketing and manipulative tactics” in a letter of complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.

Prodigy is a role-playing game aimed at first through eighth graders where players create customized wizard characters that enter “battles” to earn stars and prizes for solving curriculum-aligned math problems. The game has been downloaded more than 7.3 million times in North America since the start of 2019, according to the app researcher App Annie. Prodigy said that more than 90,000 schools globally — two thirds of them in the United States and the rest mostly in Canada, Australia and India — have used it to assign math homework...

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

MCPS employee under investigation for inappropriate sexual behavior during video link with students, said he thought camera was off

...He said he has worked for MCPS for 21 years.

Schack said the school system called him on Monday to say he was being placed on administrative leave, telling him they had “misplaced his background check file.” 

“Maybe they were looking to see if I had any criminal misbehavior or anything like that,” he said.

But the district didn’t mention the video to him and he was not aware of it until Wednesday...

Biggest Electric Bus Deal in U.S. Approved in [Montgomery County] Maryland - $169 MILLION @MCPS

A school system outside Washington is poised to become the nation’s biggest operator of electric school buses.

The Board of Education in Maryland’s Montgomery County voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to approve a 16-year, $169 million contract to lease 326 buses, part of a plan that could result in the county replacing its entire 1,422-bus fleet over the next two decades.

The deal represents the largest municipal government order of any kind for buses, according to Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for Advanced Energy Economy, a business association that promotes clean energy use...

...The vehicles will be built by Thomas Built Buses Inc., a division of Daimler AG with electric battery technology provided by Proterra Inc. in a deal coordinated by Highland Electric Transportation Inc. Todd Watkins, the transportation director of Montgomery County Public Schools, said the contract would be the first electric school bus contract in the nation that is not dependent on federal grants...

MCPS Cafeterias will Put 55+ Students Together without Masks while Eating Lunch, a Known High Risk Interaction. #COVID-19 #Ventilation #HighRisk

The Board of Education has revealed what schools will look like when they open for more public school students.  (Note, MCPS schools are already open and in use by students paying to attend various programs.)  

In the MCPS video posted to Twitter, the Board of Education shows that they will not be following the concept of creating pods of students.  Instead, they will allow 55+ students to all eat in one room.  Obviously, as the students will be eating their lunch they will not be wearing masks.

The NFL already determined that this type of environment was high risk and eliminated lunch rooms in order to keep COVID-19 from spreading during their season.  

But why learn from others?  The Board of Education prefers to experiment with students and staff to see how this arrangement of 55+ students and staff in one room without masks on will work out.