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How will Harford County schools operate in the fall? It will depend on status of the coronavirus pandemic.

A draft recovery plan for how Harford County Public Schools will operate in the fall was released Thursday, laying out three different scenarios — from an all-virtual distance learning environment to all classrooms being open with an option for virtual instruction — based on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic.

People can view the draft plan, as well as find additional resources, on the school system’s website. The final version of the Continuity of Learning 2.0 Recovery Plan is scheduled to be released in August.

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Superintendent Sean Bulson is scheduled to review the recovery plan with the members of the Harford County Board of Education during their meeting Monday. The meeting, which will be conducted via teleconference, will start at 6:30 p.m. and can be heard online at the school board’s livestream page.

The public also can give its input during a live, online town hall meeting Wednesday starting at 5:30 p.m. with the superintendent and other school system leaders. The town hall will be held through Microsoft Teams, and people can submit questions ahead of time by sending an email to HCPSTogether@hcps.org.

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Schools were closed for in-person instruction in mid-March as the pandemic hit Maryland, and did not reopen for the rest of the 2019-20 school year, forcing parents, students and teachers to shift to holding classes online.

The stage HCPS officials will employ for the 2020-21 school year, whether it is a distance-learning, in-person or hybrid of the first and third options, depends on what stage Harford County and Maryland are in based on Gov. Larry Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery.

Regardless of the state’s recovery stage, however, parents/guardians will have the option to continue virtual learning for their children if they do not feel comfortable with them returning to school buildings.

“In Fall 2020, HCPS will continue to provide the highest level of education to all of our students, although this may look different than in previous years,” according to the draft plan.

HCPS Recovery Options
(Courtesy Harford County Public Schools)

School recovery stages

The three proposed recovery stages for Harford County Public Schools are as follows, according to the draft plan:

Stage 1-distance learning:

  • All classes are virtual, buildings closed to employees and the public

Stage 2-hybrid model:

  • Mix of in-person and virtual classes happening on an alternate schedule
  • All-virtual learning is an option
  • Schools and other buildings are open in a “limited capacity”
  • People must wear face masks and follow social distancing guidelines

Stage 3-in-person learning:

  • All classes happen in person, but virtual learning is an option
  • Buildings are open “with health and safety limitations”
  • Face masks either optional or required, depending on guidance from local and state health officials

COVID recovery status

Maryland is currently in Stage 2 of its recovery, having entered that phase in mid-June, which allowed restaurants to offer indoor dining at 50% of their capacity, plus gyms and fitness studios can open for indoor activities, also at 50% of capacity. The state also has allowed outdoor amusement centers to reopen “with health and safety protocols,” as well as arcades, casinos and malls.

If the state were to remain in Stage 2 of the governor’s recovery plan, schools would use a hybrid model of instruction in the fall.

More than 71,000 Marylanders have been infected by the novel coronavirus as of Thursday, and there have been 3,160 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus — 406 people are hospitalized with the illness, with 139 of those patients in an intensive care unit, according to Maryland Department of Health statistics.

Harford County has had 1,225 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including at least 61 confirmed deaths, according to the latest data. More than 19,600 Harford residents have been tested.

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The COVID-19 metrics for Maryland “continue to trend in a positive direction,” with people testing positive for the disease at a 4.53% percent rate that currently “remains stable,” the governor noted in a news release Thursday. The disease is spiking at a much larger rate in other parts of the country, with thousands of new cases each day in states such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

Hogan stressed that residents cannot afford to “stop being vigilant and cautious,” however.

“In order to keep outperforming the nation and continue on our road to recovery, all Marylanders, regardless of age, must continue practicing physical distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds and close gatherings,” he stated.

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