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Prince George’s public schools start school year online Monday, plan to keep remote learning through semester

Prince George’s County Public Schools started a new school year Monday morning, and confirmed that they are continuing distance learning through at least the end of the second term in January, after a request from Gov. Larry Hogan last week to consider in-person schooling instead.

“Prince George’s County Public Schools is committed to the health, safety and well-being of all students and educators,” Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton said in a statement Thursday. “We have listened to parents and our community in making decisions that prioritize our students’ needs. At this time, we have no plans to change course in reopening PGCPS.”

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The authority to make reopening decisions lies with local boards of education, Hogan said in a statement Thursday.

“Nearly everyone agrees that there is no substitute for in-person instruction. It is essential that we all work together on flexible hybrid plans to safely get some of our kids back into classrooms and into healthy and supportive learning environments,” he said in a statement.

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State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said she is asking local boards to reevaluate their modes of instruction at the end of the first quarter.

Hogan pointed to positive statewide metrics when saying that every system has state authorization to reopen, saying the number of positives cases among people being tested has been less than 5% since June 25.

One of the statistics cited by Hogan Thursday, that all Maryland jurisdictions had positivity rates below 5% as of the prior week, was no longer true as of Monday. Worcester County on the Eastern Shore has a positive rate of 6.38%, the Maryland Department of Health reported.

Prince George’s County’s rate of positive cases was above 5% until the week of Aug. 16, according to the Prince George’s County Department of Health. Monday morning it was reported to be down to 4.37%.

On July 15, Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson announced the district’s plan to continue distance learning. In December, the school system will reevaluate and announce any changes for the third and fourth terms.

An average of four residents a day have died due to COVID-19 in Prince George’s County since Health Officer Ernest Carter announced the county’s first possible exposure on March 7: a person who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference at the National Harbor had tested positive for the respiratory illness.

Since March, Prince George’s County has lost 780 residents, and has been challenged by the disproportionate impact the virus has had on the Black and Hispanic communities, which have had infection or death rates that are out of proportion with the population demographics.

Of the 3,609 people of who have died in Maryland, 41% were Black, while Black people account for 31% of the state’s population. That is a disproportionate impact of 368 deaths.

In a press release, the Prince George’s County Public Schools said it distributed more than 60,000 devices to students last spring as part of an effort to give one device to every student, referred to as 1-to-1. They purchased 50,000 additional devices to meet that goal, but tens of thousands have not yet been delivered due to a nationwide shortage as school districts across the nation make similar changes, Goldson told the Board of Education last week.

She encouraged parents who are able to use their own devices to continue doing so, and said when shipments come in the system will replace it with a PGCPS device.

She said they expect 6,500 iPads to be delivered by Tuesday, 11,700 Chromebooks to be delivered in mid-September and 18,358 touch Chromebooks in mid-October.

In response to comments from last spring the school system has also opened up nine Parent Support Centers, including one at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. Parents can make an appointment online to get help with instruction and technology.

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