School districts across Central Maryland and the Baltimore region are finally beginning to provide clarity about what schools will look like for the 2020-2021 academic school year as the region continues to grapple with the coronavirus.
Both Harford and Howard counties announced decisions Thursday to teach students virtually through late January. The decision follows what some other school systems in the area are choosing.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also decided within the past week to proceed with a fully online model to begin the school year. Howard, Harford and Prince George’s counties are learning remotely through the first two quarters, while Montgomery plans to have a virtual-only model that will last two to four weeks before the first wave of students enters the building on a rotational basis.
Meanwhile, federal officials including President Donald Trump have begun a push for all students to resume in-person learning, despite the high risk factors involved as outlined in a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and leaked by The New York Times.
But Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said the state is “not going to be rushed into this” given the uncertainties involved.
“We all want our children to get back to school as soon as possible, but only if and when we can do it in a way that keeps our students and teachers safe,” the Republican governor said at a news conference Wednesday. “We cannot and should not rush [the decision on schools.]”
The state has had at least 75,664 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. In total, 3,215 people have died in Maryland due to the disease or complications from it since officials began tracking the virus in March.
Though Harford will be virtual, there will be an option for a limited number of students, no more than 10 at a time, to learn and use the internet under the supervision of a school employee at a county school, Superintendent Sean Bulson announced Thursday.
The hope, Bulson said in an interview, is to offer learning support centers at every school, so that students can stay in a setting that is familiar to them. But that will depend on demand and capacity.
“There is general agreement that safe, in-person learning would be the first preference, but the current conditions make it impossible for large groups of students to be in school at one time,” according to a letter from Bulson issued Thursday morning.
Similar to Harford County, Howard County’s Board of Education decided Thursday that it will also complete its first two quarters virtually. The decision passed 6-1, with member Christina Delmont-Small voting against.
Throughout the first five months of the academic year, the school system will develop hybrid and in-person learning models to possibly implement later in the year.
“My recommendation is to focus all of our energies and resources to implementing the best virtual solution possible for the start of the school year,” schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said Thursday. “This allows us to focus all our energies on implementing a fully virtual model and more fully vet a hybrid model.”
State Schools Superintendent Karen B. Salmon is expected to hold a news conference next week to provide an update about the reopening of schools.
All school systems must submit their reopening plans to the Maryland State Department of Education by Aug. 14. Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education, as laid out by the state, has 13 requirements for school districts in planning their reopening, including college and career readiness requirements, Individualized Education Program protocols, attendance tracking and safety protocols.
The Baltimore City school system has proposed relaxing social distancing to as little as 4 feet to accommodate a greater number of students and requiring face masks for all staff and students when buildings reopen.
Schools would open with a combination of online and in-person classes on an alternating schedule, with a goal to transition the district’s youngest students entirely to in-person classes. Families would have the option to take all classes online.
A final decision for Baltimore County Schools will likely be made at the next school board meeting on Aug. 11. On Tuesday, Superintendent Darryl L. Williams said he is leaning toward remote learning with a phased-in return.
Anne Arundel County is still reviewing models for reopening schools in September, a hybrid in which students spend two days in school followed by a separate group of students spending two days in school, one student per bus row (with the exception of siblings) and no more than 10 or 12 students per classroom, according to a statement released Wednesday.
Contrary to most of the public school plans, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced Thursday that it plans to accommodate as many students as possible for in-person classes five days a week, according to a draft plan. But families who are uncomfortable with in-person instruction can attend classes remotely.
In the announcement, the Archdiocese stressed that reopening procedures are still being developed and will be finalized by July 24.
Baltimore Sun Media reporters David Anderson, S. Wayne Carter Jr., Alison Knezevich, Taylor DeVille, Jacob Calvin Meyer and Lillian Reed contributed to this article.