Carroll County Public Schools took a dive into their plans for the 2020-21 school year Wednesday night after releasing a draft to the public of what reopening and recovery could look like in many scenarios.
The board did not vote Wednesday night on a final plan, instead using the meeting to focus on asking questions. It began with more than an hour of comments from the public.
The board can vote to “reopen” Carroll County’s schools at a slower pace than the state guidelines allow, but it cannot vote to move faster. At Phase III of Maryland’s reopening plan, the schools would be allowed to open at full capacity. School systems across Maryland have been planning how to begin the fall semester if September means the state is in the current Phase II, or in the possibility that it would move back to Phase I if coronavirus cases spike.
This means planning for “enhanced” virtual learning and a “hybrid” option where students are at school some days of the week and learning from home on others.
The draft plan presented a better idea of what hybrid learning would look like if CCPS chooses to go that route come September.
Hybrid learning is based on having about 50% of students in the building on a given day. Any family who wants to continue learning completely virtually will have that option.
The draft plan right now is to split students into A and B groups. One group will be in the building while the other learns at home. The A cohort would be in school on Mondays and Tuesdays. All students would be virtual on Wednesdays to allow for a deep clean of the buildings. The B cohort would be in school Thursdays and Fridays.
The planning committee considered a model where the A group attends on Mondays and Thursdays and the B group attends Tuesdays and Fridays. Although both patterns have pros and cons, the AA/BB pattern would mean the two groups would not cross-contaminate between deep cleanings. Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer was in favor of the AA/BB pattern.
Wednesdays, when all students and teachers are working from home, would include “synchronous” learning where students and teachers are meeting over video for part of the day.
On days when half of students are virtual, their engagement will be evaluated by how the interact with the assignments asynchronously.
For students staying virtual in the hybrid approach, Wednesdays would be the only day they get face-to-face instruction with their teachers.
The high schools would follow the normal four-mod schedule. For younger grades, it will be up to schools based on staffing and other factors.
The draft plan currently calls for students and staff to wear cloth face coverings while on buses and in the school buildings.
Buses in the hybrid school model would have one student per seat, except for siblings. Siblings will also be in the same cohort so they are attending school vs. staying home or going to childcare on the same days of the week.
One of many areas where the plan aims to address equity issues is internet connectivity and access to devices.
For students who need internet connectivity, the school system will be investing in mobile hotspots to provide to families. The school system is also working to provide a laptop for every high school student. Those likely wont be ready by the first day of school because CCPS is competing with so many other organizations all over the world to procure them.
August will mean a lot of options for teachers to do professional development. CCPS is hosting more than 180 sessions on different topics and asking teachers and instructional assistants take several. For students, there will be an instructional technology “bootcamp” in the first few days of the school year to get to know the tools they will use.
The school system will return to using Google Classroom for virtual learning because it’s what returning students and staff are familiar with.
In order for CCPS to choose the hybrid model, it would require most or all teachers and instructional assistants to return in person four days a week. The school system does not expect to have a backup of substitutes to fall back on; there was already a shortage last year.
Jason Anderson, chief academic, equity and accountability officer, shared some of the biggest concerns from families and teachers after virtual learning in the spring. People stressed the need for more synchronous instruction, more feedback on assignments, more accountability and more ways for families to see how their students are doing.
The draft plan is about 50 pages and is available on the CCPS website with the agenda from the meeting. But there’s still a lot of procedural level of detail that doesn’t make it into that document. That will be shared in more communication from Central Office and individual schools once a plan is approved.
On Wednesday evening, Gov. Larry Hogan said state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon would hold a news conference next week to further discuss the schools situation for the fall.
“We all want our children to get back to school as soon as possible, but only if and when we can do it in a way that keeps our students and teachers safe,” he said. Hogan added that “we cannot and should not rush” the decision on schools.