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Education

From the education reporters: What we are watching as schools reopen

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

After 18 months of disruption, Maryland’s school kids were finally going to have a normal year. But with the rise of the delta variant, school openings are in turmoil once again with parents and teachers anxious about a new year.

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Public debate over mandatory face masks, vaccinations, testing protocols and where and how students will eat their lunch are going to be the focus of the coming week. Not to mention the pressure that may come from parents when students are quarantined for weeks without access to online education.

As we enter the school year, here’s what we, the Baltimore Sun’s education reporters, are watching:

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Normal return to school upended

Despite all the anxiety, many educators say they are feeling the same first day of school excitement and can’t wait to have all their children back. The say they will focus on student well being after a year of social isolation. Maryland schools stayed closed to in-person learning longer than most in the country.

Frederick County - the first district in Maryland to open - already had 600 students quarantined by the end of the week.

The first school districts in the Baltimore region - Baltimore City, Baltimore and Howard counties - will return on Monday, followed by a host of others after Labor Day.

Questions about learning during quarantine

Although school district leaders have been clear they aren’t offering virtual learning to more than 1% of students - those who excelled at home last year or have a medical condition - pressure is likely to mount on districts if students end up at home in quarantines with no real access to learning.

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Statewide Mask Mandate

In a rare act of defiance of Gov. Larry Hogan, the state school board instituted a mask mandate on Thursday. The emergency regulation will have to be approved by a legislative committee before it takes effect, likely in 10 days.

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Senate President Bill Ferguson publicly thanked Maryland’s new State School Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury. We will be watching to see if Choudhury will be a more activist leader, ready to take on the governor more often than his predecessor.Will mandatory vaccinations be next?Several school districts in the state have already taken the step of telling school based staff they must be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. The FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine has made some Maryland legislators keen on seeing a mandate and are likely to press educators at a hearing on Monday.

The devil is going to be in the details

Questions and confusion are likely to roil within parent corners over small details: How many feet does one child have to be from another to be ordered home to quarantine for 7 days? 10 days? Does a vaccinated, masked teacher have to quarantine? Who does the contract tracing when there are cases of COVID-19? How do students eat lunch without their masks on in the school cafeteria? Can they go outside? What if it is raining? The CDC has guidelines for schools, but there will be lots of ways to interpret them.

Help inform our reporting by sharing your experiences, telling us what you’re concerned about or leaving us a tip here.

— Liz Bowie & Lillian Reed


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