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No special educators agreed to come back to limited in-person instruction, Anne Arundel schools superintendent says

None of the special educators at Anne Arundel County’s three special education centers agreed to return for in-person instruction as the school system prioritizes which student groups to bring back first, Superintendent George Arlotto said on Monday night.

In a workshop with the county Board of Education, the superintendent updated members on what a hybrid approach will look like for students when they start to bring some students back.

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The system is focused on special education students, Center for Applied Technology students and English language learners.

Out of the three student groups, no teachers at the special education centers signed up to return to school buildings.

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Arlotto said 49 families of special education students have agreed to send children back to buildings. Approximately, 200 staff members work at the centers and serve 460 students, school officials said.

School board members expressed disappointment that special educators have not agreed to return.

“I’m very concerned that absolutely no teacher — as caring and dedicated the teachers are and have been in the past — that none of them are choosing to be there for the students that they know will not be successful in a virtual environment,” board member Candace Antwine said.

Vice President Melissa Ellis went through a checklist based on some concerns she heard from educators on topics like using PPE, practicing social distancing, disinfecting surfaces and air ventilation.

In an attempt to address some pandemic concerns, the school system will distribute five face masks per employee, create social distance markers in buildings and contact the county health department if a student or staff member tests positive, Arlotto said.

He also said that the ventilation in schools filter air from outdoors, a system that the health department recommends.

To make up for the lack of educators, contractors for services such as occupational therapy or physical therapy and other instructional services will be used for the students who agreed to come back to the centers.

Additionally, 17 teaching assistants signed up to help at the special education centers for the hybrid model.

Students can rely on transportation to and from the center for two hours of in-person instruction, once a week. The anticipated start date is Sept. 28, according to Arlotto.

School board members voiced concern with focusing first on the special education centers — Marley Glen, Ruth Parker Eason and Central Special — rather than students with high needs.

“I am very, very concerned that we still have high need special ed students who are not in our special centers,” Ellis said. “The task in reopening our schools is very large and overwhelming, but how can we make these students a priority?”

School communities have pushed the system to reconsider bringing in only children from the three centers.

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On the first day back to school, a reopen protest was held at the school board headquarters in Annapolis, with attendees discussing why children with specialized needs outside of the centers must get back into school buildings.

When asked about other students with disabilities, Arlotto said the student population at the centers is more finite and that the system “wanted to do right” by those centers first before branching out.

Ellis pushed for a deadline — recommending that the system begin bringing in other special education students in October.

Centers for Applied Technology

So far, the school system received 258 notifications of students interested in returning to the CAT-North building in Severn and 13 teachers who are willing to offer in-person instruction.

Students at CAT-North Center will be able to receive up to two hours of instruction, twice a week, and the rest of the schedule will be held online.

The school system is still detailing transportation routes for its students but Arlotto said he anticipates a start date of Sept. 21 or Sept. 28. The routes are usually based on which high school students attend. The system is looking into using neighborhood elementary and middle schools as a central location for these students.

The CAT-South Center in Edgewater has one willing teacher to return to the building and the system is still working on a plan to invite students back to the school, Arlotto said.

English language learners

Middle school students who are English language learners are the last group of students able to come back into buildings. The system has not yet sent out an invitation to families but anticipates contacting 100 to 200 English Language Learners.

Once a week, English language learners will be able to attend in-person learning for part of the day. For the rest of the day, staff will offer to learn support to students as they learn online.

The school board also breached the question of when will the system stop asking for volunteers and require teachers to come back.

School board member Robert Leib said teaching is an essential function that should be in person.

“We are doing what we need to do to minimize risk but you cannot eliminate risk. I am trying to find where that razor edge is — when do we step in and make that decision,” Leib asked.

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