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Families can apply for Harford schools’ eLearning blended virtual program starting in April

Families that want their children to remain in a virtual setting for the next school year can start applying for Harford County Public Schools’ blended virtual programs in early April.

School system officials plan to have the majority of the nearly 38,000 HCPS students back in school five days a week for the 2021-22 school year, but also provide an eLearning Blended Virtual Program for those who want to continue learning virtually.

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The school system completed its application to the Maryland State Department of Education on March 9 and is awaiting a response, Rebecca Pensero, grant coordinator of eLearning, said at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Should the state approve, HCPS would offer two blended virtual programs, both of which would be centered through the Alternative Education Program at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen.

One program, for middle and high school students, includes part of the week in school and the rest of the week learning asynchronously. The second program, for kindergarten through 12th grade, would be fully virtual with students learning from home.

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The school system would have staff dedicated to the blended virtual programs and interested teachers can begin applying Wednesday. Interviews would start March 29, according to Rob DeLeva, principal of the alternative education program.

An information session for school administrators happened March 19, and a session for teachers was scheduled for Tuesday. A virtual parent information session is scheduled for March 30, from 6 to 7 p.m., and parents can get more information about the meeting via a YouTube video featuring DeLeva, who will serve as principal for the blended virtual programs.

Students can apply for the virtual programs through the school system website starting April 6, with priority given to applications received before April 20. Families whose children have been accepted will be notified by June 1, according to Pensero.

Officials are seeking data on student registration by the third week of April, because by then “we’ll have a much greater idea of the actual staffing we would need” for the programs, DeLeva said.

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School board members had few comments and questions about HCPS officials’ update on the virtual programs, as well as the announcement of a May high school graduation schedule at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen and programs to help students at all levels work through academic recovery during the spring, summer and fall.

Member Patrice Ricciardi highlighted the graduations, academic recovery and “the virtual [learning] opportunity that’s going to be offered” next year.

Superintendent Sean Bulson discussed how the school system will keep its schedule for more students to return to the classroom in the coming weeks, even as some students and staff test positive for COVID-19, and many more people who have been in close contact with them have to go into isolation or quarantine.

Thirty-two students and 13 staffers have tested positive, with 88 students in isolation and 204 in quarantine, plus 23 staff members in isolation and 43 more in quarantine as of Tuesday, according to the dashboard on the HCPS website.

The superintendent stressed the importance of staying home when sick, calling it “the first, most important ‘must do’ in our safety mitigation” strategies, because anyone who tests positive also affects students and staff who are around them.

“Please, if people are sick, they need to stay home, as much as we know that individuals want to be in school,” Bulson said.

Students at the elementary, middle and high school levels began returning to their schools on a hybrid basis in early March, after spending most of the school year learning virtually from home as HCPS officials work to keep students and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials are sticking with plans to have elementary students in school four days a week starting March 29 and secondary students in four days a week April 7, with Fridays reserved for asynchronous learning from home. That gives students time to catch up on classwork or get help from their teachers, plus teachers have time to meet with their colleagues and plan for the next week.

“This day provides an opportunity for them to plan with their grade level colleagues, with special [education] teachers, with [Gifted and Talented] teachers,” Renee Villareal, executive director for elementary school instruction and performance, said during the board meeting.

“It’s really important that they have that time,” she said of asynchronous Fridays in the current schedule.

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