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Baltimore County schools announce plans to reopen for students in March; teachers to return by mid-February

Baltimore County public school officials are preparing to bring students back to school buildings for the first time in nearly a year, with employees expected to return to buildings by Feb. 16, followed by students March 1.

Officials released the timeline Monday for rolling out a hybrid learning model of both in-person and online instruction for several categories of students. The plan would bring children back to schools for the first time since last March, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the region. Parents will have a choice of whether to send their children back or to keep them at home and continue their learning online.

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Children in preschool through second grade may return to schools March 1, as well as students enrolled in special education programs at the system’s four separate day schools, according to the plan.

Students in career and technical education programs and students who receive special education services outside of general education settings may return to school March 15.

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Students in sixth and ninth grades may return March 22, followed by the remaining students April 6.

“We have heard loud and clear that some families are ready for in-person learning,” said Superintendent Darryl L. Williams in a statement Monday. “While school operations will look different as we implement the CDC’s recommended practices for health and safety, I look forward to greeting students and staff as they return.”

The announcement comes after months of debate among school board members and planning by administrators.

Critics in the county have expressed frustration that the school system continued to hold classes online throughout the fall and winter, even as neighboring jurisdictions such as Baltimore City and Carroll County reopened to some children.

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Administrators have pointed out that the school system is still recovering from a devastating ransomware attack just before Thanksgiving.

The Teachers Association of Baltimore County, the union representing thousands of certificated county schools employees, recently slammed an announcement from Gov. Larry Hogan calling for schools to bring students back for in-person instruction by March.

“There are many concerned people,” union President Cindy Sexton said Monday.

Sexton said a recent union survey found that 80% of respondents indicated they were “somewhat or very nervous” about returning to school buildings.

“We just want to be sure health and safety guidelines are followed,” Sexton said. “It’s still a dangerous situation with the pandemic.”

Williams appeared to be working more collaboratively with the unions than he had in the fall, when he introduced a plan for reopening that was not well received, and then backtracked.

Williams met with union heads late last week to lay out some of the plans and get their reaction, said Tom DeHart, who represents 600 administrators, including principals. Some of the plan appeared to have been tweaked over the weekend based on those comments, DeHart said.

“I am not sensing a groundswell of opposition” among administrators DeHart said. Principals have already been working in their schools at least once a week.

Baltimore County parent Philicia Rollins said she won’t be sending her child back to Milford Mill Academy, a west-side high school.

“I am not comfortable, and I don’t think it is safe,” she said. The reopening decision, she believes, is more political than based on health concerns.

Rollins, a Baltimore City teacher, thinks more parents will keep their children home than send them back when schools reopen.

“I don’t think it is coming from a place of really caring about the children and the staff,” she said.

Yara Cheikh, the parent of three teenagers, said she and her husband haven’t made a decision about whether to send their children back to Dulaney High School.

“It is all very complicated and the devil is in the details of how each school is going to implement safety protocols for teachers and students,” she said.

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