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Howard County teachers union supports school system’s coronavirus distance learning plan

When Howard County high schoolers and middle schoolers begin distance learning in April, they will receive weekly assignments for all subject areas every Monday and have the week to complete them.

Throughout the week, students will have opportunities for virtual check-ins with their teachers where they can ask questions as they spend the majority of each day completing the various assignments.

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All assignments will be found on Canvas, an online learning management system.

On Wednesday evening, following state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon’s announcement that the statewide public school closure would continue through April 24 because of the coronavirus health emergency, the Howard County Public School System released its next phases of continuous learning despite not being in the classroom.

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On April 14, Howard high school students will begin their distance learning. Six days later, on April 20, middle school distance learning will begin. Elementary level distance instruction will be rolled out if the state decides to close schools beyond April 24.

“I want to acknowledge first that I share many of the same frustrations that I have received,” Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said during Thursday’s virtual Board of Education meeting.

“There are many who have contacted me to say that we should go ahead and put materials out [before April 14] and then worry about the students who may not have technology access or receive special education services. With one in four of our children living in poverty, requiring special education services or needing language supports, that is just not possible,” Martirano said.

The Howard County Education Association released a statement late Wednesday night in response to the school system’s distance learning announcement, stating, “We agree with the time allocated over the next few weeks for training and supporting staff, as we move into these uncharted waters, will lead to better instruction.”

The teachers union “appreciate[s] the school system’s measured approach and will continue to work with them to support all of the students we care deeply about,” union President Colleen Morris wrote in a statement posted on the union’s Facebook page.

While teachers, paraeducators and other educational staff are trained in face-to-face instruction with students, it “is not easily transferable especially in the early grades and with students that need extra support,” Morris wrote.

Martirano thanked and commended all school staff who have worked over the last few weeks to implement the continued learning plan, as well as those disinfecting all 77 schools and school buses and those serving free meals at the distribution sites.

Howard schools’ spring break from April 6 to 13 will go on as scheduled for students. All school system staff will be engaged in professional learning activities during spring break, having April 9 to 10 and April 13 off.

Morris acknowledged the shared sense of “confusion, uncertainty and isolation associated with this pandemic” in her statement.

“We promote diversity, equity and inclusion for staff and students,” she wrote.

“Listening to the loudest while including those with the least opportunity to speak takes time, patience and room,” Morris added.

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