Baltimore County is considering plans to establish learning support centers for its neediest students during the fall semester since schools are slated to open only virtually until the end of January.
The county issued a request for information in August from childcare providers in August to gauge how much it would cost to provide a space for children whose parents are unable to stay home during school hours. All Baltimore-area public school systems are delaying a return to school buildings due to public health concerns about current levels of coronavirus infection and an anticipated spike in cases in the fall.
Many details need to be worked out, and there’s no guarantee the county will move forward with learning centers. But, the county is asking those with child care expertise if these centers could provide supervision for remote learning, recreational activities, meals and transportation, as well as estimates for how much it would cost.
The centers would cater to children in kindergarten to sixth grade from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., according to the county documents. The county is currently identifying locations for centers throughout the county and trying to determine how many students can be served based on social distancing guidelines.
The county hopes to identify organizations that can offer services to students and their families during the fall semester and “potentially the spring,” the documents stated. The county is reviewing submissions this week after the solicitations period closed on Monday, a county spokesman said.
The county declined to comment Tuesday on the learning centers request.
News of the county’s efforts was welcome news to Yara Cheikh, a Baltimore County parent with the Student Support Network.
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“I think this is going to happen all over the country,” Cheikh said. “There’s definitely a need. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s highlighted the huge inequities in educational opportunity in Baltimore County.”
About 43% of Baltimore County students qualified for free and reduced meals last year, Cheikh said, adding that 25,000 families in northern Baltimore County’s Council District 3 alone lack broadband high-speed internet access.
The reality of the pandemic, she said, is some parents will have to work without the means to provide supervision for their child, so they need help.
“The learning hubs are going to be essential,” Cheikh said, to “fill in the gaps” for some students. She expressed fear about what some students face when schools reopen Sept. 8.
“Many children in our county will be home suffering from food insecurity and not having adult oversight over their education while living in vulnerable circumstances” Cheikh said. “The situation is dire for some of our students and we have to address it.”
Baltimore County’s solicitation for the feasibility of the program comes a week after the Board of Education for Harford County Public Schools OK’d a plan that includes the option of learning from home or at Learning Support Centers set up in some school buildings. Harford County’s school system is planning to assign one assistant per room who also will monitor the students in grades kindergarten to 12th grade during meals to ensure proper social distancing behaviors.
In July, the mayor of San Francisco announced the city would open supervised Community Learning Hubs in recreation centers, libraries, cultural centers and community-based organization sites to support remote learning for students this fall.