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Baltimore County school board looks ahead to hybrid instruction in spring semester

The Baltimore County Board of Education has directed staff to craft a detailed plan for hybrid education during the spring semester, appearing to abandon another idea to return the school system’s youngest learners to school buildings by Nov. 30.

Board members voted Tuesday in favor of a measure that directs staff to create the plan for hybrid learning next semester by Dec. 22, building on the school system’s reopening plan that was released in August.

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County school board members asked staff several weeks ago for a similarly detailed plan for returning students in kindergarten through second grade to school buildings by the end of November in hopes of providing families with a window into their school reopening strategy.

Board members heard the details of that plan Tuesday, but took no formal action. The plan includes a “tandem” model of learning in which students who have opted for in-person instruction would attend school in small groups at different times of the week in hopes of mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Superintendent Darryl Williams and administrators discouraged elected leaders from sticking to the targeted Nov. 30 reopening, stating that schools could bring back students by Dec. 14 if COVID-19 case counts trend lower.

Maryland State Department of Education officials recommend limiting or ceasing in-person programs in schools if the local COVID-19 testing positivity rate is greater than 5% and the new case rate is greater than 15 per 100,000.

Baltimore County school leaders have said they wish to see cases remain below the state’s threshold for two weeks before bringing students back to school buildings.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have risen across the region, prompting the school officials to begin rolling back in-person learning plans.

And Gov. Larry Hogan announced a tightening of restrictions on restaurants Tuesday and sought to discourage large family gatherings and parties, citing Maryland’s coronavirus case counts that have “crossed over into the danger zone.”

A few days after Baltimore County school board members requested the November reopening plan for kindergarten through second grade students, administrators scrapped another plan to send some students and staff back to four schools for children with disabilities, citing concerns about the region’s rates of COVID-19.

Still, some parents who identified themselves as members of the group called Reopen Baltimore County Public Schools have questioned the board’s delay in beginning in-person instruction during public comment. A number of Baltimore County teachers conversely have called on the board to weigh the risks of the pandemic before bringing large groups of staff and students back into buildings.

The board also voted for a 2021-2022 school calendar that includes beginning classes before Labor Day.

School board members voted unanimously for the calendar that brings students back to schools Aug. 30. Several board members said they normally support a post-Labor Day start date but were supporting the measure in hopes of expediting students' return to classrooms following a school year that has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board members also voted unanimously to protect the Muslim holidays, which are designated as staff professional development days, from being used to make up days missed because of inclement weather.

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