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Maryland board of education says school districts should offer in-person classes full time this fall

The Maryland State Board of Education wants all schools to reopen for in-person instruction five days a week this fall, according to a resolution approved Tuesday.

The board said students should be able to attend 180 days for the school year with a teacher in the classroom, however, it offered school systems the option to seek an exception from the requirement.

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The resolution is not legally binding, state school board president Clarence Crawford said, but is a warning to school systems that state regulations requiring schools to be open for all students will be in effect next school year.

“We are trying to send a very clear signal to the school systems with as much lead time as possible to expect to be back in school,” Crawford said. “What we are saying is that status quo is not sufficient.”

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If the pandemic worsens, Crawford said the state board would reconsider its position, but he said the long-term effects on children who have been home throughout the pandemic can no longer be ignored.

“We are talking about impacting people for a lifetime ... this is a very serious thing,” he said.

Maryland has been slow to reopen its schools, prompting parents across the state to organize groups advocating school reopening. Only Oregon, California and Hawaii have a smaller percentage of students back in classrooms, according to Burbio, a company tracking school openings. In part, that is because large numbers of students still have not returned even after schools were reopened.

Crawford said school systems should launch public campaigns to persuade parents to send their children back.

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A copy of the resolution was not made public before the vote. Two school board members expressed concern that the resolution was not published before the board meeting, and that there was no chance for the public to comment on it.

Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, the union representing the majority of the state’s teachers, criticized the lack of transparency, saying it is unusual that the resolution was not released at least 24 hours in advance.

The board, meeting remotely online, voted unanimously to pass the resolution.

State school superintendent Karen Salmon said 42% of students are receiving in-person instruction, leaving about 512,000 learning from home.

Among the five largest school systems in the state, only about one in three students are back in school buildings. Eleven school systems are open for 70% of students for more than three days a week, and several of those are open for five days a week.

“That is way too many students who have not had or don’t have access to a normal classroom experience for more than a year,” Salmon said. “Research across the nation shows the majority of our children have experienced disrupted learning as a result of the lack of in-person instruction.”

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement that “families and students deserve certainty that all school systems will return to full in-person learning” and called the board vote an important step to getting students “back to normal.”

Many school systems already are planning to go back to a normal schedule in the fall, Bost said. She described the state board action as “coming out of left field” and questioned why the state would want to “strong arm” the districts instead of working to support them in helping get students back in the fall.

But some parents welcomed the move.

“We are encouraged that the resolution for a five day in-person school week and 180 day school year ... passed unanimously,” said Amy Adams, a Baltimore County parent and leader in a group advocating for schools to reopen. “The children of Maryland have been deprived of in-person learning this year longer than ... children in the majority of the states in the country.”

Anne Arundel County public school officials are currently focusing “on a return to full, in-person learning for the fall,” said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the school system.

“That is the plan we are continuing to build,” Mosier said. “We do not plan to do any hybrid instruction next fall but are examining virtual options for students who may still need those.”

Baltimore County also is working toward a full reopening in the fall, but spokesman Charles Herndon said the county school system would be watching closely how things progress with the pandemic this summer and will take into account the recommendations of our local, state, and federal health experts.

Other Baltimore-area school systems did not respond Tuesday to questions about the resolution.

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