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Baltimore County Council wants school district to plan for summer school, turn over grade data

The Baltimore County Council wants school officials to hold in-person summer classes, hand over data on grades and provide answers to questions they’ve asked about a ransomware attack last year that devastated school networks.

In a letter to schools Superintendent Darryl L. Williams and Board of Education chair Makeda Scott, the County Council is asking for a “rigorous” five-day summer school program after hearing for months from parents and students that they are struggling with virtual learning.

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“I am concerned about what happened to students over this past year — I don’t blame anyone because 100% we did not have a choice,” said council chair Julian Jones.

But “I would like to know what the plan is moving forward and I think that’s reasonable,” he said.

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In the letter, council members said they need a plan for in-person summer school instruction and grades information over the last three years “no later than” April 16.

“These are important issues to County parents and taxpayers, and we will bring them to your attention at this year’s BCPS Budget Hearing in May as we evaluate and ultimately decide on BCPS’s FY 2022 funding requests,” council members wrote.

The letter notes the school system will receive federal coronavirus relief money allocated to the district, which could be used for summer school.

Williams is reviewing the letter and will take time to consider and respond to council members and their concerns, said school system spokesman Charles Herndon.

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Herndon said preliminary information concerning summer instruction can be found on the school system website.

The catastrophic ransomware attack coupled with the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has strained relationships between school officials and county lawmakers, including County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. who, in a December letter to Williams, criticized the lack of transparency from the school system regarding the attack.

“We’re glad to see the County Council share this administration’s commitment to transparency,” county spokesman Sean Naron wrote in an email. “We are focused on our responsibility to craft a thoughtful budget that focuses on supporting our students, educators, and staff as they continue to recover amid these dual crises.”

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican who has served for a decade on the council said there’s typically a more collaborative relationship between the superintendent and council members.

“Usually the superintendent responds to us — I think there’s a frustration among many members that that relationship doesn’t exist,” Marks said.

During a meeting with Williams earlier this month, council members pressed him on whether the school system paid a ransom but did not get an answer.

Councilman Tom Quirk, chair of the spending and affordability committee, told Williams at the time he “was not prepared” to vote on the budget until the council is given answers regarding the attack.

“We demand to be treated with transparency, we demand that we need more accountability,” Quirk said Thursday. “We shouldn’t have to ask for this information — this is information we should be supplied.”

“The Baltimore County Council has the authority over the budget for” the school system, he said. “And we need answers — and we need leadership, quite frankly.”

The school system accounts for nearly half the county’s $3.8 billion budget.

“I think there are times the county should take a strong policy position,” said Marks, who teaches in Harford County. “Here’s one. We’re all hearing from families and students who just argue they need more resources to succeed — and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

A representative of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County said the union, which represents certified educators, does not have data on how many teachers would consider signing up for summer instruction.

”It is an opportunity for educators and support professionals to make some extra money and work with students,” TABCO president Cindy Sexton said. “I do believe there are some who would work with them over the summer.”

Sexton said she received phone calls from three county council members before they signed the letter.

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