The Baltimore City school system will open 44 schools by mid-November to small groups of students having difficulty learning online, the first school district in the Baltimore area that is planning to bring at least some students back for classes five days a week.
The city’s first reopening for in-person instruction by teachers will allow some students at about one-quarter of the city’s schools.
The city’s plan will be implemented to coincide with the beginning of the second quarter this month, and will include students in prekindergarten, kindergarten, special education and those experiencing homelessness. The district also will bring back students who are showing up less than 20% of the time for online lessons.
Other students the system expects to return include some sixth and ninth graders — students transitioning to new schools — as well as students in career technology studies, such as those seeking certification to be an auto technician or a nursing assistant.
Families with children at the schools that are reopening can opt to attend the classes, but those who are enrolled in schools that remain closed will not have the option to attend in-person. A limited number of special education school students will have the opportunity to attend any of the city’s four special education schools.
The number of schools far exceeds the 25 that Schools Chief Sonja Santelises announced she expected to open. John Davis, the system’s chief of schools, said the number of schools was increased because there were enough staff members who volunteered to come back and the need was greater.
“We had more schools that wanted to do this than we originally thought," Davis said. “For the most part principals and teachers raised their hands and said they wanted to come back and give these opportunities to students.”
Davis acknowledged, however, that some teachers were ordered back in the classrooms. After principals volunteered to have programs in their schools, Davis said administrators saw some geographic gaps in the city where no school was offering in-person instruction. Davis said administrators asked a small number of principals to open their school buildings.
Davis declined to speculate on the number of teachers and students who would be coming back, but he said it is about four to six classrooms of students in each school. Each classroom will only hold the number of students that can be in the room and allow for six feet of separation, which health officials recommend as a safe distance.
The schools are across the city and include elementary, middle and high schools. Many of the schools are in some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods. Largely left out are the most affluent neighborhoods where students are less likely to be homeless and more apt to have access to internet and computers, including Roland Park, Mount Washington and elementary schools in Federal Hill.
School officials had said they would give priority to those students who had missed 80% or more of classes and were more likely to be falling behind academically, including homeless students and the youngest learners for whom video conferencing is difficult.
In announcing the reopening plan last month, Santelises said that while there has been an improvement in the quality of online learning for students since it began in March, “what is also true is there are too large a number of young people for whom the virtual learning is just not working.”
Parents will be given the choice of whether to send their children back for in-person classes. If they opt not to, their children can continue with online learning. If more families want to send their children back than there is space for, schools may have to go to a hybrid model of instruction where one group of students comes two days a week, and a second group comes two different days.
In addition, Davis said schools have flexibility in bringing some students back even if they don’t fit the criteria for returning students.
So far this school year, the only students learning in schools are at special centers where they have internet and can sign onto online classes while being proctored by staff.
While the majority of the reopening schools are elementary or middle schools, there are 12 high schools. Most students will return Nov. 16, although those attending the special day schools for students with disabilities will return sooner.
The elementary schools are: Callaway, Creative City Public Charter School, Franklin Square, Furley, Graceland, Johnston Square, Lakewood, Moravia Park, and William Paca.
The elementary/middle schools are: Armistead Gardens, Baltimore International Academy, Baltimore International Academy West, Bay-Brook, Beechfield, Cherry Hill, City Springs, City Neighbors Charter, Fallstaff, Hampstead Hill Academy, Hazelwood, John Ruhrah and Lakeland, Lillie May Carroll Jackson School, Maree G. Farring, Mount Royal, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, Walter B. Carter and West Port Academy.
The high schools approved to open are: Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, Ben Franklin High School at Masonville Cove, Carver Vocational Technical High School, City Neighbors, Digital High School, Empowerment Academy, Forest Park, New Era Academy in Cherry Hill, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Renaissance Academy, Reginald F. Lewis and Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy.
Students at four separate public day schools for students with special needs will open on Monday, Nov. 9. They are: William S. Baer School, Claremont School, Joseph C. Briscoe Academy and Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School.