Maryland schools expecting only a small fraction of students will take classes online this fall

Despite significant numbers of parents telling school districts they were interested in an online school option for the fall, only a tiny fraction of students are expected to take school districts up on that offer.

Maryland public schools are expecting to open the school year with about 14,000 students — or just 1.5% of statewide enrollment — taking classes online, according to data compiled by the Maryland State Department of Education and presented at a state board of education meeting Tuesday.


The education department has emphasized the need for the vast majority of students to be in school five days a week next year. However, officials acknowledge that in special cases — such as when students have shown they can learn better online than in person — they should be given an online option. President Joe Biden’s administration also is encouraging districts to be open for in-person instruction five days a week.

All of the Baltimore-area school systems are offering an online option for students, but those programs will be limited in scope according to school district figures through June 30. In Baltimore City, a total of 1,500 students will take classes virtually, most of them in high school. In Baltimore County, 3,472 students will be online, including about 4% of county middle and high school students according to state data.


In Howard County, only 500 elementary and 100 middle school students are planning to attend an online school; the option was not offered to high schoolers. Harford County has 600 students signed up and Carroll County had fewer than 70 students at all levels — and the district canceled its plans for an online option earlier this month.

Anne Arundel is the only district in the state that will offer students the option of enrolling in a new countywide online school for grades three through 12. Just 228 of their students are expected to take part. In other counties, students would remain connected to their home school but would take classes through a centralized online option.

In some cases, school officials may drop some of the online options because not enough students have signed up, according to Carol Williamson, the state’s chief academic officer. The numbers of families deciding to have their children attend online seems to be declining, she said.

Many schools in the region opened for in-person instruction in the last half of the school year but still served fewer than half of all students. Attendance rose or remained about the same in 15 of the state’s 24 school systems in the last two semesters. In nine school systems attendance declined.

Student grades improved or stayed the same in the majority of school systems in the fourth quarter, according to data released by the state Tuesday, after students failed classes at higher rates than normal during the first half of the pandemic-affected school year.