In the next week, the Carroll County Public Schools community will know whether the start of the 2020-21 school year will have students and staff in school buildings part of the time or not at all.
The Board of Education will vote on a reopening/recovery plan at one of its meetings, either on July 29 or Aug. 5, though CCPS officials won’t say which of those two dates will see a decision.
Board President Donna Sivigny said in an email, “We will not know for sure, until we see how the discussion goes on Wednesday evening [July 29]. We had tentatively set August 5th as the latest possible date to vote on the re-opening plan. But it could be sooner depending on the conversation, as we want to give the school system and families time to prepare.”
The deadline for school districts to submit their finalized plans to the Maryland State Department of Education is Aug. 14. The first nine of Maryland’s 24 school systems to announce decisive plans all chose to start the school year with a return to distance learning.
CCPS released a draft plan and discussed it in depth with the board for almost five hours July 15. The task for Central Office staff has been to prepare for operating under three scenarios — in-person reopening, fully virtual learning, or a hybrid of the two — depending on the conditions at any point in the school year. Schools would only be allowed to open at full capacity if Maryland were to reach Phase III of its reopening plan.
The meeting on July 29 will be a special meeting, which the board and Central Office staff have held regularly since the start of the pandemic so they can address changes before the board and the public more regularly than in their usual monthly meetings. The Aug. 5 meeting is the regularly scheduled monthly meeting and will include additional business.
On July 29, CCPS employees have planned a drive-by rally urging the school system to start the year with full virtual learning. The group plans to congregate and then arrive in a group of vehicles with signs at about 4:30 p.m. Teachers have also taken to email and other communication with the board.
Teresa McCulloh, president of the Carroll County Education Association, said the mission of the rally is to support the virtual model for reopening, “getting it right until it’s safe to ease into reopening schools.”
The Facebook group Return2Learn Maryland Schools has planned a counter-protest at the same time, planning to gather around the building on foot to advocate for the hybrid reopening, which would have students in schools two days a week and staff in schools four days a week.
An organizer on the Return2Learn Maryland Facebook page wrote, “We want to counter with LOTS of people outside the building.” The organizer also wrote that group members, regardless of where they live, should show up because if Carroll reopens with a hybrid model, they believe, it would put pressure on other school districts to do so as well.
One of the major points of discussion in the July 29 meeting will be to review the results of a survey sent out to employees, parents and students, Sivigny said. An initial survey was sent out earlier in the summer, but CCPS hopes the second survey, in which participants were asked to weigh in on specific scenarios in the draft plan, will give valuable information.
Resident participation in meetings has been more robust than usual this summer, with parents, employees, advocates and local group leaders weighing in through in-person comments at board meetings or letters and emails. Resident participation time is built into the beginning of both upcoming meetings.
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In addition to public comments, school staff and board members have said they are receiving thousands of emails. Sivigny said her best guess, for herself, “would be an average of about 200 emails per day.”
The first day of school is set for Sept. 8. In some other county school systems with earlier start dates, the school board chose to push back to Sept. 8 to give more time for preparation.
Some have expressed frustration about the timing of the decision, with families taking to social media to voice frustration that they don’t have enough information and can’t make plans for the fall semester in terms of finding child care or, for some, potentially transferring to private schools. Many private schools in the area have small student populations, allowing them to return to the classroom five days a week and offer fully synchronous classes online.
And if teachers were waiting for a finalized plan before making the decision whether to retire or transfer, it is too late.
For tenured employees, the state deadline to announce a retirement or resignation passed on July 15. There was no alteration to the deadline this year. Announcing a resignation after the deadline can result in a teacher’s Maryland teaching certificate being suspended because they have breached contract.
Chantress Baptist, director of human resources for CCPS, said that in past years when employees have tried to transfer out of CCPS after the deadline, whether CCPS lets them go or asks the state to pull their certificate depends on where the teacher is trying to transfer and whether they work in a high-demand field.
More information about the procedures for commenting in person at the meetings is available at www.carrollk12.org.