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Baltimore City Schools Push To Keep Classrooms Open Despite Omicron Surge, More Baltimore County Schools Go Virtual

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Even with the omicron variant surging, many school leaders are demanding classrooms remain open.

Baltimore City Schools' CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises said Monday all staff must now get regularly tested throughout January regardless of their vaccination status. That is a change as only unvaccinated staff were required to get regular tests previously.

She said her system is prepared to administer 50,000 tests each week.

And she rejected calls from the teachers union to get all students tested before reopening on Thursday.

Dr. Santelises said community organizers who work with youth warned her, "If you take school off-line for 2 to 3 weeks, there are young people you will never see again. It has taken us this long to get them back and get them reconnected and at 2- to 3-week disruption in those connections is going to mean you're going to lose young people permanently."

High school students will get PCR tests on Wednesday.  Rapid tests for elementary and middle school students will be administered after schools open again Thursday but only if parents consent to them.

Maryland's Senate President applauded the move to stay away from virtual learning.

"The omicron variant is once again causing unimaginable disruptions, but those disruptions cannot extend to our students and our schools," said Sen. Bill Ferguson.

In Baltimore County, 28 schools have gone fully or partially virtual because of staffing shortages and a high number of positive tests and people in quarantine.

The teachers' union president said it may be time to take a short break until omicron is under control.

"Over the break, the numbers certainly have not gone down, and I do believe at this point a very short-term virtual stint may be appropriate," TABCO President Cindy Sexton told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren.

Sexton said staffing shortages are rising along with cases and they could get so bad, more schools will not be able to safely stay open.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan plans to hold a news conference to update the state's covid fight on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

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