School Takes Hands-Off Approach to Local Covid Outbreak in May Despite Rising Cases

by Solaiman Hassanin ‘23

The weeks after the May 7 prom saw a massive outbreak of Covid-19 infections at Sherwood. Despite hundreds of students getting Covid-19, school continued with no mask mandate. The non-response to the outbreak was a clear indication that Sherwood and MCPS have decided on a “new normal” in which schools will remain in-person no matter how high cases soar.

According to the MCPS Covid-19 Dashboard, 74 Sherwood students reported to have had Covid-19 from May 15 to 24, but anecdotal evidence suggests the actual number was twice that or more. School nurse Irene Gumucio said the school has no way of exactly measuring the number of Covid-19 cases because reporting is dependent on students or parents completing the MCPS Self-Reporting google form that is linked on the school’s website.

Although Sherwood still periodically provides take-home Covid-19 tests, the school cannot require that students take them or even that students report positive results for infection.

According to a student who was out with Covid 19, parents are told to fill out a positive Covid form, indicating the reason for their absence. Despite taking these steps, the student found the process to count the absence as an “excused” absence to be more complex than necessary, with the school marking them as an unexcused absence multiple times.

Some recent trends may be positive, as official MCPS Dashboard numbers show the total number of quarantined students in May was 8,125, around half the 15,191 that were quarantined in January. Between May 21 and May 29, there were approximately 1,779 cases among students and staff across all of MCPS, with 28 confirmed cases at Sherwood during the same period. The numbers seemingly show a decline in cases between May 21 and May 29 when compared to May 15 to May 24, at least on the basis of MCPS’s official count.

Principal Tim Britton confirmed that MCPS remained on a set trajectory to remain in an in-person setting until the end of the year. Britton was careful to mention MCPS cooperation with schools and the level of coordination between MCPS and different schools.

Ultimately, Britton says that students’ own behaviors and choices have a significant impact on the spread of Covid-19 infections. “Measures should be taken on a personal level,” said Britton. “We encourage any and all students and staff to wear a mask if they are in a high-impact area, or classroom, that has had a case. The county has not required schools to go back to a mask mandate; therefore, we are following those guidelines.”

Gumucio affirmed that protocols have changed with time and as the school receives updates from MCPS higher authorities. For example, while a Covid-19 reporting form has existed since the return of students to in-class learning, the form has recently been changed to fit the different situations and times. Covid-19 quarantine, which was at first ten days, was cut down to five days in order to better suit an opening society.

Covid-19, for the most part, seems to have become a far more accepted part of life for both individuals and organizations. While different schools have taken different approaches, it reasonably can be assumed that Covid-19 will not be the cause of any school closures anytime soon.

The county’s policy, for better or for worse, has become solidified and its trajectory clear.