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Our View: A no-win decision, a technically challenged meeting and a difficult road ahead for CCPS | COMMENTARY

It’s probably unfair to question how Carroll County Public Schools is going to pull off an “enhanced” version of online education for some 25,000 students this fall when the live stream of the lengthy Board of Education meeting at which the decision was made to start the 2020-21 school year fully virtual was fraught with technical difficulties. But many will understandably do so.

As for the decision itself, it was not possible to reach a consensus on in-person or online education with parents, teachers, board members and pretty much everyone else having strong feelings.

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In a CCPS parent survey that received more than 9,000 responses asking if they preferred virtual learning to a hybrid model of virtual and in-person learning, 36% said yes, 47% said no and 17% were undecided. BOE member Ken Kiler said by voting to open virtually, they’d be sending the message to half of those who responded that their opinions didn’t matter. Meanwhile, 35% of teachers said they would be comfortable returning to work in person, 43% said they would be uncomfortable and 21% were undecided.

There are valid points on both sides. If in-person learning were to resume, some number of students and staff will become sick and, at best, quarantining will pose a logistical nightmare while, at worst, someone could die. If the students resume distance learning, which nearly everyone concedes is vastly inferior to actual school, many students, particularly those in special education, will fall behind educationally with a significant number also struggling emotionally and psychologically. While the teachers union likes to say there is no perfect solution but there is a safe solution, that really depends on one’s definition of safe and how far into the future is considered. But, clearly, the more immediate and potentially most severe danger was in reopening in-person, so it’s hard to criticize the unanimous vote to start out with online-only learning.

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Board members expect to make tough decisions. On funding. Possibly redistricting. Maybe even school closures. Hot-button issues, all, but none near the magnitude of how to begin the school year amid the coronavirus pandemic. They talked about the thousands of emails they’ve received, advocating passionately on both sides, some far less than cordial. The likelihood is they awoke Thursday to jam-packed inboxes and should ready themselves for more feedback, both in support of their decision and begging them to reconsider.

And they doubtless heard from some who simply wanted to watch the meeting and hear the issues clearly articulated by local experts, and were thoroughly frustrated in the attempt.

The meeting was delayed some 45 minutes due to “technical difficulties.” When it finally began, at least for those streaming, there was no sound for several minutes. Around 7 p.m. the meeting was halted to “reboot” the system. Throughout the night, depending on the quality of one’s internet, those streaming faced buffering issues, frozen screens and loss of sound, missing significant chunks of the meeting.

Three Times staffers attempted to stream it (after requests that a reporter be allowed to attend and cover the open meeting were denied). The three — utilizing broadband from different internet service providers — all experienced frequent issues, with lengthy inaudible sections. This was not uncommon for those attempting to stream the meeting, based on comments we received and on social media.

More than one wondered how CCPS will be able to give kids a quality, online-only education when merely streaming a meeting presented such a challenge. Maybe that’s not fair. Maybe one technology has nothing to do with another. However, during public comment Wednesday, one student noted that programs had a tendency to “glitch” during distance learning in the spring.

Regardless, the most difficult decision county BOE members have been asked to make has been made. Now comes the really difficult part — implementing it to the satisfaction of a skeptical and engaged community.

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