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Education

Anne Arundel school board OKs virtual classes during inclement weather, to continue some snow days

The Anne Arundel Board of Education approved a plan Wednesday that will give the superintendent the discretion to switch to virtual instruction on days when inclement weather prevents students and teachers from traveling to school buildings.

The plan, only applicable to the current school year, will allow Superintendent Mark Bedell to hold virtual instruction with either live, synchronous lessons or prepared asynchronous lessons on days when school might normally close.

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On synchronous learning days students will log on to a virtual platform to participate in live instruction. On asynchronous days students will learn content independently using a prepared lessons, without live online instruction.

The plan must be approved by the Maryland State Department of Education before it can go into effect.

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“We’re not looking to take away any kids’ joy,” District 5 Member Dana Schallheim said.

Bedell said the plan will allow the system to continue to teach students rather than close for bad weather, which leads to the addition of makeup days in June, weeks after state assessments have taken place. Last school year, five days were added in June because of foul weather. Holding virtual classes instead would prevent that kind of extension in the future.

County public schools have three inclement weather days built into the year, which is scheduled to end June 16. Chief Communications Officer Bob Mosier said the system is not required to use those three days before taking classes online. If the three weather days go unused, they could be deducted from the end of the year, effectively shortening it.

The county school system plans to have at least four hours of instruction on virtual instruction days with synchronous learning, a smaller time commitment than a regular school day. The schedule students will follow on virtual days is still being finalized and will be posted at www.aacps.org/studentschedules. It will include a midday break.

“The reason for us making this recommendation of an amended, abbreviated schedule is so we can get our instruction in still, but also allow for students and families to be able to enjoy those weather days and also not put people in further hardship by extending the year,” Bedell said.

State guidelines say the system can have eight virtual days, with no more than three being asynchronous. The guidelines also state that the virtual instruction days won’t affect staff pay or a student’s grades. If a student has trouble accessing the internet, the system must provide a meaningful opportunity to make up missed work in person.

Last year, when the school year was extended by five days due to inclement weather, some students didn’t come in or left on vacation, Bedell said.

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“I’m not sure instruction was as strong as it would have been if it were delivered even for four hours during a snow day,” he said.

Zach McGrath, the student member of the county school board, said the majority of students he has spoken to are against virtual learning on a snowy day. He doesn’t support a plan that would mean fewer snow days for future generations, he said.

“They want to have a day off in the middle of the year where they can just forget about school for a little bit and be a kid,” he said.

The board approved the plan 6-2, with McGrath and Michelle Corkadel, who represents District 7, voting against the measure.

Corkadel said she is concerned some students will not be able to participate in virtual learning due to lack of power or internet connectivity, as well as how teachers will care for their own children while at home teaching.

“I see a lot of holes that I don’t know that we can fill,” she said.

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