The number of students quarantined away from in-person classes due to COVID or a close contact is growing faster than Anne Arundel County Public Schools anticipated and the system will scale up its virtual learning operation in response starting Oct. 4, Deputy Superintendent Maureen McMahon said Wednesday.
Right now students are being asked to use the online learning management system Brightspace to retrieve assignments from the classes they are missing. Then a virtual teacher helps make sure the student completes the work.
When assignments aren’t posted to Brightspace, the virtual teacher will email their regular teacher and ask them to post the content.
As more students have gone into quarantine, the number of students assigned to a given coach has grown from 10 or 15 to more than 30, McMahon said. The children are from different schools and dealing with different assignments.
“That’s a little more difficult,” she said.
So, instead of having a virtual teacher juggling questions about different assignments from schools all over the county, a virtual teacher will lead their own lessons and give their own assignments to quarantined students. At the end of the 10-day quarantine period, the work the student completed in the virtual class will be sent to their regular teacher.
Literacy, reading and humanities will occupy the first block of the day, science and social studies the second block and math the third block, plus office hours for students, McMahon said. She said the system doesn’t have enough staffing for a full day of virtual school, but said she considered the phase two program robust.
As of Thursday, 1,388 students are in quarantine due to COVID or a close contact, of the system’s 80,000-plus students.
Teacher’s Association of Anne Arundel County President Russell Leone said the time it takes to properly format and upload files into Brightspace is cutting into teacher’s lesson planning time. He said he hopes the new plan for quarantined students will alleviate that burden, but said as far as he is aware teachers are still being asked to drop content in Brightspace.
He said teachers would also like to see the amount of time it takes for a virtual teacher to connect with a quarantined student reduced, saying sometimes it takes a few days for students to be contacted.
Earlier this week Superintendent George Arlotto announced that staff and student-athletes would need to either certify their vaccination against COVID or submit to weekly tests, starting in late November.
The Board of Education will continue to discuss vaccine requirements for certain students at its next meeting. The board unanimously agreed to add it as an agenda item.
Leone said the union supports teachers whether they want to be vaccinated or not, and is happy the system is providing options with its policy.