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Anne Arundel elementary schools look for volunteers for hybrid learning as parents ask how to help

The Capital, Annapolis, Md. — Naomi Harris The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

Oct. 17-- Oct. 17--Anne Arundel County schools are looking for volunteers to help when elementary school students return to buildings in November, as some parents look to support schools and others were skeptical of volunteer involvement during the coronavirus pandemic.

A flyer being distributed details what volunteers would do: help for two hours for lunch, recess and quiet time. It states that a volunteer can sign up for two days a week or all four days and stay with the same group of students of no more than 12.

At a meeting for parents and parent-teacher organizations with the school system, President of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs Vanessa Rivera asked the school system a question many parents had asked her.

"When we first went virtual, a lot of the questions I got were 'how can I help, what can I do?'" she said.

After the school system had heard some parents and parent-teacher associations wanted to be more actively involved in the hybrid approach, schools drafted the volunteer program, school system spokesperson Bob Mosier said.

Rivera said she was happy with the school system incorporating that feedback and believes it allows parent involvement but balances it with safety by requiring the cohorts, volunteers to be trained and other precautions.

"The parents have been pushing so much to try to provide volunteers and assistance, we just didn't know how," said Rivera, who is also a member of the Waugh Chapel Elementary and Arundel Middle PTAs.

Mosier said the program is not related to any staffing issues.

"This is not a result of staffing or the lack of staffing. We are not looking for folks to take the place of classroom teachers," he said.

The volunteers would come in for the two-hour period, in part to give teachers a break, Mosier said.

Volunteers will start on Nov. 16 or Nov. 30, and schools are also offering to fingerprint people who sign up. Volunteers will be placed in cohorts to help decrease the risk of possible spread.

Russell Leone, the county teacher's union president, said in a text message that this call for volunteers adds a concern that more people in a space will increase possible exposure.

The request for volunteers is one thing the Hillsmere Elementary School PTA board pointed to in a letter to the school system objecting to the hybrid plan. The PTA urged the Board of Education to reconsider pursuing the model, also citing that it believes it violates a student and family's rights. The PTA says the school system's plan "bases its success in part on community volunteers rather than obligated staff members."

Eastport Elementary PTA President Jessica Pachler said the volunteer part of the plan was absurd.

"Why are we bringing in so many people into a school building when we're trying to limit the amount of interactions," she asked.

Pachler said Friday she would contact school officials to understand any possible liabilities, training opportunities for the volunteers, and a backup plan if some schools cannot get enough volunteers to sign up.

Volunteers will go through background checks and receive training on masking, hand sanitizing, physical distancing, and comments to look out for when it comes to the coronavirus, Mosier said.

During that two-hour break, students with special education needs will also receive some services in the classroom and, in some cases, will be taken out of the classroom, according to the school system's plan.

For elementary school students who have individualized education plans, there will be meetings with parents and school staff to discuss how services will be delivered online or in-person, depending on the decision made by families.

Parents have until 9 p.m. Monday to choose between continued online learning or a return to classrooms after the system extended the deadline.

Capital staff writer Brandi Bottalico contributed to this story.


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