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Kent Goes Purple returns to in-person activities

CHESTERTOWN — Kent County is getting its purple on and returning to in-person activities during the month of September, which is National Opioid Awareness Month.

The event was virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there is no official kickoff or big-name speakers this year, the 2021 edition of Kent Goes Purple has many of the familiar components such as a Color Fun Run/Walk, purple T-shirts for local students, Purple Jamboree and purple lights throughout the county to raise awareness of opioid abuse.

The sponsors also are familiar: Kent County Sheriff’s Office, Chestertown Rotary Club and Kent County Behavioral Health Prevention Office.

Organizers did not actively fundraise this year because of the economic punch that the pandemic delivered, but Annette Duckery, the county’s alcohol and drug prevention coordinator, helped secure a grant that paid for the T-shirts and made it possible to lower the cost of the Color Run.

Rotarian Andy Meehan, who has been involved with KGP since its launch in 2018, is hoping for a big turnout for the 5K and Purple Jamboree — both on Sunday, Sept. 12.

After the COVID-related slowdown and shutdown over the last year and a half, “people are looking forward to an activity they can do in person,” he said.

The Color Fun Run/Walk begins and ends in Chestertown’s Wilmer Park. The race starts at 8:30 a.m. You can register online at www.kentgoespurple.org. The cost is $10 for anyone 13 and older; there is no cost for children 12 and younger.

There is no fee for the Purple Jamboree, which will be held from 10 a.m. to noon in Wilmer Park. The offerings include music and entertainment, family fun activities, and food and drink by Phat Daddy’s BBQ.

Businesses and individuals are encouraged to show their support by displaying purple lights, which can be purchased at JBK Hardware in Chestertown and Ace Hardware in Rock Hall.

Other ways to get involved include sharing daily educational messages from the Kent Goes Purple Facebook page; talking with youth about substance use prevention; getting trained on Narcan, an opioid antagonist used to reverse the effects of an overdose; learning about the Good Samaritan Law; and learning about medication storage and disposal.

Meehan and Sheriff John Price, who also has been involved since day one, said the primary focus for KGP is to educate youth on the perils of illicit drugs.

“It has to start with education ... parents talking to their children,” Price said.

Prevention, recovery and life choices also are part of the campaign.

“My hope is that the community unites,” Price said. “That youth are educated and that we can offer assistance for people who are suffering from addiction.”

On the eve of the official start of Kent Goes Purple, there was an event in Chestertown’s Fountain Park to remember those whose death was drug related.

William Webb, the county’s health officer, told the gathering that so far in 2021 there had been seven overdose deaths in Kent County.

“Every one of those is a tragedy,” he said.

Webb said one of the purposes of Overdose Awareness Day is “to cherish their memory and help share their stories so that others don’t have to go through what these families are going through.”

Webb said help is delivered person to person. You can start by reaching out to someone who is using drugs.

Tuesday night’s event in Fountain Park included testimonials from people who are in recovery, a moment of silence and candlelight vigil for those who have died, educational information and training in the use of Narcan.

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As local requirements draw protests, state board mandates masks in schools
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ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland State Board of Education approved an emergency measure Thursday, Aug. 26 requiring masks in schools for the new school year.

The board approved the statewide mask mandate for students, teachers and staff at public schools. The measure goes to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) for final approval and implementation; a meeting has been set for Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Most of Maryland’s local school systems have already approved mask mandates, citing worries about the Delta variant of the coronavirus. That includes school systems of Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Kent and Talbot counties.

There were five school systems in the state that were not requiring students and staff to wear masks for the upcoming school year. Four of those — Dorchester, Cecil, Somerset and Worcester — are on the Eastern Shore. Carroll County is the fifth school district and its board has reaffirmed that students will not be required to wear masks, despite the state mandate.

On Aug. 26, Susan Getty, a Maryland State Board of Education board member, said about half of the state’s students are not eligible for a vaccine at this time because of their age, according to the Associated Press. People 12 and over are eligible to be vaccinated.

Citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, Getty said mandating mask-wearing is an additional strategy to protect students, especially against the highly contagious Delta variant.

“The CDC, as of today, has designated all counties in Maryland as high- or substantially-high risk. No one is in the low category,” Getty said. “Because of this and the 80,000 cases of COVID already with children under age 19, I fully support this mask mandate at this time.”

The Maryland state Senate and House of Delegates leadership have issued statements in favor of the AELR Committee moving forward with approving the regulation.

Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, and fellow minority party members of the AELR Committee issued a statement Monday, Aug. 30 announcing their “serious concerns regarding the State Board of Education’s unprecedented usurpation of local control in mandating masking for students across Maryland.” They seek a full hearing on the proposed mandate.

“We support the request that the AELR Committee hold an open and transparent public hearing to fully evaluate this controversial decision,” said Jacobs; House Minority Leader Jason Buckel, R-1B-Allegany; and Dels. Haven Shoemaker, R-5-Carroll, and Susan McComas, R-34B-Harford, in a joint statement.

The state teachers union welcomed the mask order.

“Thank you to (the Maryland State Board of Education) for showing statewide leadership by passing emergency regulations for a mask mandate in schools. This helps us open our doors in a more healthy and safe manner for students, educators, and communities,” said Cheryl Bost, president of Maryland State Education Association.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has not ordered or forbid localities and local school districts from imposing or not imposing mask requirements. School districts in Arizona, Florida and Texas have been battling GOP governors over mask and other COVID mandates.

Hogan lifted the state’s COVID mask order earlier in May when cases and hospitalizations were down.

While Kent County’s Board of Education unanimously agreed with Superintendent Karen Couch’s recommendation for a mask requirement here, the measure was not met with any public protest.

“The masking requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff will preserve our ability to continue in-person instruction and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools,” Couch said in a letter posted on the Kent County Public Schools website.

At an Aug. 9 board meeting, President Joe Goetz agreed with requiring masks in Kent County schools. He spoke about reading news of children being hospitalized due to the Delta variant.

Board member Francoise Sullivan agreed, raising the same concerns Getty would later in the month to the state board about young students not being able to get vaccinated.

“With approximately half our student population currently being under 12 and ineligible to receive a vaccine I think it’s vital that we do whatever we can to protect them and our staff,” Sullivan said Aug. 9.

Local mask mandates have prompted battles and protests at school board meetings on the Mid-Shore, throughout Maryland and across the country. One Mid-Shore protest led that school system to canceling planned back to school events.

Queen Anne’s County Superintendent Patricia Saelens’ decision to require masks in schools was upheld by the Board of Education in a 3-2 vote Wednesday evening, Aug. 18.

While the board maintained Saelens’ position on face masks — a decision that drew extensive, vocal criticism from parents in attendance — the board removed encouragement for those eligible to receive a vaccination.

Board member Marc Schifanelli said he did not believe it was the school system’s place to make that kind of recommendation and made a motion to remove it. The board passed Schifanelli’s motion 4-1.

Parents against face covering requirements met outside the Board of Education building Aug. 18 prior to the board’s work session, where a few speakers were given the opportunity to address some board members.

According to local mom and organizer Jodi Dauses, more than 850 community members have signed anti-mask petitions. She said families want “the free choice to decide if their children wear masks to schools.”

A group of 80 to 100 parents and children lined the sidewalk in front of the Caroline County Board of Education building in Denton Monday afternoon, Aug. 23, waving signs and chanting slogans in protest of the school system’s decision to require masks indoors.

Ryan Maloney said he was protesting mandates for both masks and vaccines. He said it was ridiculous “to lockdown businesses” and “lock up our kids.”

“Opioid use is up; suicide use is up,” Maloney said. “Isolating kids has a detrimental affect.”

Caroline County Superintendent Derek Simmons had presented a revised plan for the upcoming school year to the Board of Education Aug. 17 calling for universal indoor masking of teachers, staff, students and visitors when students are present.

On Tuesday, Aug. 24, the day after the protest, the school system announced all back to school and meet the teacher events scheduled to be held prior to Sept. 1, the first day of school, had been canceled “for the safety and well-being of staff, students and families.”

“The Board and I fully support individuals peacefully exercising their first amendment rights. However, at the Aug. 23 protest at the Board of Education office, employees leaving at the end of the work day were harassed by protesters that blocked or ran beside their vehicles, spoke to them in a threatening and profane manner, and photographed their vehicles and license plates. This was a deeply disturbing experience that left employees understandably shaken. Given those circumstances, we cannot in good conscience conduct large-scale events that will expose children, families and teachers to threatening and disturbing behavior,” Simmons said in a statement.

In the same statement, President Jim Newcomb said board members were saddened that the actions of a small percentage of the school community forced such measures to protect the entire school community.

“We know these events occur in other places with other people; we did not expect anything other than civil and peaceful discourse in Caroline County,” Newcomb said in a statement. “The mask requirement is not a political issue. Our goal continues to be keeping the school doors open five full days a week for in-person learning for all students.”

A Dorchester County Board of Education meeting Thursday, Aug. 19 was accompanied by a protest before and during the meeting outside of the central office building in Cambridge. Protests outside and commentary in the meeting were both for and against mask wearing, with the latter group turning out in larger numbers.

Prior to the Aug. 26 Maryland State Board of Education decision, Dorchester County students were set to return to school with no mandatory mask rule.

Dorchester Superintendent Dave Bromwell had announced there was no local mandate at the Aug. 19 meeting in Cambridge.

A presentation from Dorchester County Deputy Health Officer Casey Scott was played at that meeting to give an update on her agency’s recommendations for masks and vaccines, as well as other preventative measures.

Scott emphatically recommended using “layers” of precautions to prevent the spread of COVID and keep schools open. She said vaccines are “the number one strategy to use to prevent COVID-19.” She said masking also was important.

“We’re still in the thick of this, we need to layer as many strategies as we can,” Scott said.

In Easton, upset parents and children took to the streets to protest mask mandates and press for freedom of choice Tuesday, Aug. 24 after Talbot County Public Schools announced face covering requirements for the upcoming school year.

The mandate came from Talbot Superintendent Kelly Griffith just a week after optional masking had been initially announced.

“We are not here to protest that we don’t want our children in masks, and we don’t want people to think that we’re against masks,” said Libby Beam, an organizer of the Aug. 24 protest. “We are all for whatever each parent decides.”

For Leslie Murphy, a registered nurse and board certified integrative health practitioner from Trappe, the mask protest was her way of venting about the lack of communication between the school board and parents about rules and community input regarding the upcoming school year.

“We question also if the kids can sit at their desk and eat lunch without a mask, why can’t they sit at their desk and learn without a mask on?” Murphy said. “So, at minimum, we would like to see the kids not have to wear masks at their desks. I mean ultimately we’d like it to be a choice, but the rules that they’re making up, the school board, just don’t really make sense.”

According to the Maryland State Department of Education, the mask mandate for all school systems was made out of necessity “to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Maryland public schools, prevent public school closures, and limit the number of students required to quarantine out of the classroom during the 2021-22 school year due to COVID-19.”

It is being proposed as an emergency regulation because the standard regulatory adoption process requires a notice and comment period that, according to the MSDE “could not be completed in the timeframe required to prevent public school closures and limit necessary quarantines during the 2021-22 school year.”

Final approval is required from the AELR Committee which published notice of the emergency regulation Friday, Aug. 27.

“If a member of the AELR Committee requests a public hearing on the emergency adoption of a regulation, the committee must hold the hearing. If no public hearing is requested, staff to the Committee may poll the Committee members on the emergency regulation as soon as 10 business days after receipt of the regulation,” the MSDE website states.

There have been reports that AELR Committee leadership is seeking a waiver of the 10-day waiting period. The Republican members seek to keep that in place, saying “the 10-day review period is the public’s best tool to review impactful policy changes that come via an unelected and unaccountable government bureaucracy.”

“It is in the best interests of the public and in the spirit of open government that this review period remain in place,” Jacobs and his fellow Republican AELR Committee members said in the Aug. 30 statement.

“However, it is important to note that neither this review period nor the request for hearing on the regulations prohibit any parent from choosing to mask their children when they return to school this week. Any inference to the contrary is merely political theatrics,” they said.

The Maryland General Assembly website shows an AELR Committee public hearing on the emergency regulation will be held via the Zoom teleconferencing app and Youtube at 10 a.m. Sept. 14.

Reporting by Mike Sunnucks, Angela Price, Mike Detmer, Natalie Jones, Luke Parker and Daniel Divilio.

Commissioners oppose Morgnec Road Solar application

CHESTERTOWN — After several closed-session discussions, the Kent County Commissioners have voted to oppose an application by Morgnec Road Solar LLC to complete a solar panel project on what is referred to as the Clark Farm just outside Chestertown limits.

At a county meeting Tuesday, Aug. 31, Commissioner Ron Fithian moved to oppose the application, and said “we’re going to use (the Maryland Public Service Commission’s) resources to fight that application.”

With a second from Commissioner Bob Jacob and no discussion, the three commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the application.

The application, which was originally filed in November 2018, is to construct a nominal 45-megawatt solar facility in Kent County. The Morgnec Road Solar Project is proposed to be on two parcels of land totaling about 253 acres.

That land, located just outside Chestertown limits on Morgnec Road, is zoned “Rural and Community Residential.”

A motion to intervene was filed with the Public Service Commission, which approves utility projects, by the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance on Dec. 18, 2018.

The alliance cited a total disregard for “the unique status of Kent County and Chestertown as major historical resources that Maryland has taken great steps to preserve and enhance without consideration for what the State of Maryland, Kent County and Chestertown have done to assure a proper balance between modern development, residential neighborhoods and preservation of agricultural lands and cultural heritage.”

The mayor and council of the Town of Chestertown also petitioned to intervene in the application on Jan. 14, 2019.

There have been several points of opposition to Morgnec Solar’s use of the land. The Town of Chestertown may need to expand into that land in the future. The land also has the potential for historical sites, including it being a Chesapeake Heritage Area and a Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the limitation on gatherings to 10 people, public and evidentiary hearings before the Public Service Commission for the project were suspended until mid-2021.

ROCK HALL — A monarch butterfly probes a coneflower (echinacea) bloom midday Thursday, Aug. 26 in a flower garden outside Rock Hall. Monarchs migrate annually from the North to Mexico. “Weighing less than a paperclip, a single butterfly can travel up to 3000 miles,” states the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website. To learn more about how to help monarch butterflies on their journey, visit dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/plants_wildlife/monarch.aspx.