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For Carroll County schools, Maryland superintendent’s remarks don’t change process for reopening decision

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon addressed the public alongside Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday, speaking about the individual freedom for school systems to craft their own reopening plans within “guardrails” set by the state.

For Carroll County Public Schools officials, Salmon’s address was not new information so much as it was a summary for the public of some of the points laid out in the state school board’s guidance for local school systems deciding how to handle instruction this fall amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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CCPS Superintendent Steve Lockard said in an email that Salmon didn’t seem to lay out anything more or less restrictive than the boundaries Carroll’s school system has been planning within.

“The ‘guardrails’ Dr. Salmon referenced [Wednesday] were some of the selected requirements that have been in the Maryland Together plan since June,” he said. “We have presented on those requirements to the Board at our last two meetings with links to them from our presentation and the draft plan as well.”

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Lockard said there wasn’t anything he hoped Salmon would address that was left out of the presentation.

Some of the points included in the “guardrails” include mandatory mask use by students and a system for taking attendance. Others are more complex, such as the requirements to address equity and comply with state health protocols for addressing an outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Counties may choose to be more restrictive than the state guidelines, as nine school districts have done in announcing a return to fully virtual learning for at least the start of 2020-21 school year.

CCPS is among the 15 school districts that have not formally approved a plan, though they have discussed the options extensively in open meetings.

The Carroll County Board of Education has a special meeting scheduled for Wednesday, July 29 at 5 p.m. There will be a period for public comments.

Lockard said Thursday that the board tentatively plans to vote in its Aug. 5 meeting to finalize its plan for schools’ return in the fall, though he noted that such a vote could be held at the July 29 meeting, “depending on where the board is with feedback, considerations, etc.”

Salmon said she wants to see students back in school buildings this school year.

“We want to get students back to school as soon as possible for in-person instruction,” she said.

Salmon also highlighted hundreds of millions of federal funds that will go toward purchasing devices, expanding broadband internet service in rural areas and providing tutoring services.

A share of the tutoring funds has already been routed to Carroll, and that money has been used for their summer recovery program that ran for several weeks this month.

Lockard wrote, “We assume that [Salmon] was referencing the Corona Virus Relief Fund Tutoring Grant which was already shared with local school systems by MSDE. We were informed that we would receive $1,056,252 under the program. We shared with MSDE that we would apply the funds to our summer learning recovery program which met the guidelines and timelines MSDE issued. The amount of funds received corresponds well with our cost estimate for the program.”

After Salmon’s address Wednesday, Maryland’s largest teacher’s union, the Maryland State Education Association, or MSEA, issued a response.

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“Many local systems in Maryland have already opted to begin the year with virtual learning, and we urge more systems to do the same for at least the first semester. Virtual learning is not a perfect solution, but it’s the safest and focusing on just one mode of education enables educators to direct their total attention to making it more rigorous and equitable,” said Cheryl Bost, MSEA president and Baltimore County elementary school teacher.

The Carroll County chapter of MSEA also issued a statement after Wednesday’s presser, continuing its support of the statewide call for virtual-only education.

“CCEA supports MSEA’s position concerning the 2020-2021 school year. The health and safety of every person within a brick and mortar building MUST be the top priority! Start the school year virtually and get it right. A perfect solution does not exist. A safe one does!” Teresa B. McCulloh, president of the Carroll County Education Association, said in an email.

They also said that reopening will rely on a commitment to funding from local, state and federal levels.

“Educators are committed to doing all that we can to make virtual learning as successful as possible, and eagerly await the day when public health conditions allow us to return to our schools and classrooms with our students for the in-person learning that we know is better for children,” Bost said.

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