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Baltimore County public schools to provide in-person instruction for select students on Saturdays

Baltimore County public schools are preparing to bring select groups of students into buildings on Saturdays — an unconventional approach intended for children struggling academically or in an online environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, referred to as “Saturday Re-engagement,” is scheduled to run April 10 through May 15, with students coming into the building for three hours and 30 minutes for up to three Saturdays. The program comes at no cost to families and will run for a total of six weeks, with students split into two cohorts of 60 children per school, according to a description of the program obtained by The Sun.

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Students attending school on Saturdays would have the opportunity to complete assignments, review past lessons or for individual tutoring. School administrators plan to offer transportation services as well as a “grab and go” breakfast.

Each Baltimore County public school is expected to participate in the program, with administrators targeting specific groups of students across all grades including those who are not passing, student athletes, English language learners, students with individualized education programs, and those in career and technical education programs.

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The Saturday offering is an unconventional step for a public school system to take during an equally unusual school year, which was disrupted by the pandemic and a crippling ransomware attack in November. Representatives for the Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland said other systems around the state are considering similar offerings during the summer, but not during the academic school year.

The program’s announcement this week came as somewhat of a shock to Baltimore County principals and assistant principals who are already navigating the phased-in return of students to in-person instruction this month, said Tom DeHart, executive director of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, the bargaining unit representing school principals and other administrators.

Principals are eager to provide students with an opportunity to “make up for lost time,” but have bristled at the idea of working an additional day without pay. The union’s collective bargaining agreement with the school system prevents principals and assistant principals from receiving additional pay for an extra day of work, DeHart said.

School system leaders later clarified that principals will have the ability to hire and pay a lead teacher to man the program in their stead on Saturdays. Still, DeHart said communication coming from school leaders could have been handled better. He fielded around 30 phone calls from concerned members this week.

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“The ongoing theme I’ve shared with leadership is that school-based administrators have been on the job since last July,” DeHart said. “They’re the face and voice of the school system in their communities and have had to share information at the last second when they get it. The morale for my administrators is just terribly low.”

The Saturday program also includes plans to bring in one nurse or CPR-certified staffer and up to four teachers, four para-educators and four adult assistants on site on Saturdays. The program will be funded through coronavirus relief money, DeHart said he was told, but the school system did not make administrators available to discuss funding or other details of the program.

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