Baltimore County schools will close Monday and Tuesday to give educators the time to create lesson plans for students in the event their individual schools move online amid the steep rise in COVID-19 cases and staff vacancies.
After reaching an agreement with the school system’s five labor unions Friday, administrators announced that curriculum officials have prepared independent learning activities that will be posted on the system’s online learning platform Schoology while schools are closed Monday and Tuesday.
“We are providing this planning time to all teachers now to minimize disruption should an individual school have to temporarily shift to virtual instruction,” according to a statement co-signed by Superintendent Darryl Williams and leaders from each of the five unions.
“We understand this is a tremendously uncertain and difficult time for members of Team BCPS,” the announcement states. “We want to assure you that we are all in agreement that closing school buildings is the absolute last resort.”
The agreement comes as Baltimore County administrators pledged to re-open buildings for the system’s 111,000 students this week following the winter holiday, a promise that was hampered by staffing shortages, the surge in positive COVID-19 cases and quarantining restrictions. The school system was forced to move instruction online for some or all students at 32 schools, including a majority of high schools.
And more than 100 central office staffers were deployed this week to help cover classes, a move that school officials said preserved more than 2,100 hours of in-person instruction over a three-day period.
Those schools that temporarily switched to virtual instruction began with two days of asynchronous learning, meaning students complete the work on their own time without live instruction. The two-day closure next week is designed to eliminate that lag time for students, ensuring they will receive live instruction on the first day of a temporary virtual period, officials said in the announcement.
The school system will offer curbside meal service for students while buildings are closed Monday and Tuesday, with no advanced registration required.
All students, with the exception of those whose schools already have moved online, are currently scheduled to return to buildings Wednesday for in-person instruction.
In addition to the temporary closure, the school system will provide optional COVID-19 testing for staff on Monday at all middle schools from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Starting Tuesday, the system also will make 126,000 test kits available to staff and students at each school. Additional testing kits have been ordered and are expected to arrive by next Friday. Principals will provide details on their distribution next week. Another 54,000 child-sized KN95 masks have been ordered, officials said.