ROCK HALL — School will be back in session in 2021, but not with students in their classrooms and behind their desks at the start of the year.

After a discussion with the Kent County Health Department, Superintendent Karen Couch said Tuesday all schools will continue distance learning through Friday, Jan. 8.

According to the school system’s COVID-19 dashboard, which was last updated Dec. 22, there have been a total of four confirmed positive cases at the central office, five at Kent County High School, five at Kent County Middle School, one at both H.H. Garnet Elementary School and Rock Hall Elementary School and four at Galena Elementary School.

The most recent reports of positive cases occurred at the high school on Dec. 20 and at the middle school and Galena Elementary, both on Dec. 21.

In order for students to return to in-person learning, schools must meet two state-issued metrics: cases per 100,000 people and positivity rate.

To meet the former metric and offer in-person learning, Kent County’s new case rate must be less than or equal to five cases per 100,000 people. If that rate approaches but remains less than 14 cases per 100,000 people, in-person learning should be limited.

The positivity rate — the seven day rolling average of positive test results as a percentage of all tests taken — must be less than 5% for in-person learning. However, if that rate grows above 5%, but the new case rate remains less than or equal to five cases per 100,000 people, school may continue with hybrid instruction and limited in-person programming.

If the new case rate reaches 15 per 100,000, schools must limit in-person programming or employ virtual learning.

As of Dec. 27, the Maryland Department of Health showed Kent County having a positivity rate of 5.58% and 47.81 cases per 100,000. Both metrics are on a downward trend from the prior week.

In neighboring Cecil County, public schools will continue virtual learning through Friday, Jan. 8, with Jan. 11 the earliest date for a return to in-person learning.

In a Facebook post Dec. 1, Queen Anne’s County Public School’s acting Superintendent Janet Pauls announced virtual learning will continue, “until further notice,” the post read.

Talbot County Public Schools will resume Jan. 4. An update will be provided Wednesday, Dec. 30 regarding the learning model for the week of Jan. 4. All in-person and extracurricular activities including athletics have been suspended until further notice for the school system.

The start of winter sports at Kent County High School has been pushed back a week.

Athletic Director Kevin Taylor on Monday, Dec. 28 said that he and Couch agreed to delay the start for track and basketball until Jan. 11.

The school system’s Return to Play Committee on Dec. 1 canceled the 2020-21 swimming and wrestling seasons and pushed back the start of the remaining winter sports until early January.

Taylor, Couch and high school Principal Dale Kevin Brown are members of the Return to Play Committee.

Initially, winter sports at KCHS were to start Dec. 7.

The new date of Jan. 11 is tentative, Taylor said. There is no guarantee that there will be a winter sports season.

Once school resumes on Jan. 4, Taylor said he and Couch would re-evaluate the situation.

“We both agreed that we should delay the start date until 1/11/21 to allow us to meet and reflect on where we currently stand with the metrics numbers and the safety of bringing student/athletes back into the building,” Taylor wrote in an email to coaches on Monday.

At KCHS, the tentative plan is for indoor track to become an outdoor sport with virtual meets.

Indoor practices for basketball would be limited to 15 students in a pod, which is how the three-week fall and spring practice sessions were conducted.

The basketball schedules have been made but not released, Taylor said. There are no out-of-conference or out-of-division games.

If practices start Jan. 11, games would begin Feb. 1. The final play date for basketball and all winter sports — as mandated by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association — is Feb. 13.

Taylor said the Trojans could get in as many as six games (MPSSAA permits a maximum of two three-game weeks) before the Bayside Conference tournament.

Ultimately, the North division winner would meet the South division winner to crown the overall conference champion.

There would be no spectators. All coaches and players on the bench and scorekeepers would be required to wear face masks.

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