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Baltimore County schools releases plan to bring students back to classrooms, but offers no new return dates

Baltimore County schools officials released a plan Friday detailing how they would safely restart some in-person classes for students during the coronavirus pandemic, though they did not include a new timeline for the instruction.

District officials had said in September that they would bring back the youngest students, those in preschool and kindergarten and some disabled students, for some in-person instruction in November.

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That plan, with a specific start date, wasn’t mandatory but nonetheless caught many officials off guard. County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., teachers and administrators and others said they had not been notified in advance of the school district’s announcement.

The 14-page document released Friday lists no potential start dates for older students for the hybrid in-person and virtual learning. It does provide detailed health and safely guidelines that school officials say were developed in accordance with the county and state health departments, state education department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“We share the community’s goal of getting back to ‘normal’ in every way possible, including bringing our students back to school buildings,” said the opening letter to the document, signed by Darryl L. Williams, county schools superintendent, and Michael J. Zarchin, chief of school climate and safety.

“We understand how important this is for the academic and social-emotional well-being of our children and our communities,” it reads. “We have worked with the Baltimore County Department of Health to establish mitigation plans and will continue to communicate and collaborate as we monitor and respond to changing conditions.”

Schools in the county and the rest of the Baltimore region all began the year entirely online.

Many parents and teachers applauded the move to keep students and staff safe. Others derided officials for burdening families, particularly those without sufficient internet access or the ability to tend to their children, especially younger ones considered less likely to transmit COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Gov. Larry Hogan and state school superintendent Karen Salmon made a last-minute appeal to districts in late August, just before the school year began, to develop plans to return students to class. School districts had been asking for more guidance from the state, and the leaders responded with an assessment that found each district had met benchmarks to bring some students back.

The majority of districts in the state have said they would consider a hybrid plan for at least some students, particularly those with special needs.

Baltimore County’s new plan, however, comes as coronavirus cases are again on the rise around the country and in Maryland, with more than 900 cases reported Friday.

The plan calls for monitoring cases in the community. It also addresses social and emotional well-being, health services, transportation, building maintenance and ventilation and food services.

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