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Harford school board inviting public back to meetings Monday for first time in more than a year

The Harford County Public Schools Board of Education will have its first in-person meeting open to the public in over a year at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the board room of the A.A. Roberty Building on South Hickory Avenue in Bel Air.

Fifty seats will be made available to the public and in-person public comment will be limited to those seated in the board room. Seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents participating virtually will also be allowed to speak, but must register by 9 a.m. the day of the meeting. More information can be found on the school system’s website, hcps.org.

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The hybrid meeting will have some board members, staff and presenters attending virtually, while others will be in person.

Like all HCPS school board meetings, Monday’s session will be streamed live and archived for later viewing on the school system’s website.

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The last time the Harford Board of Education meet in person with an in-person audience of any kind was March 9, 2020. It was the same day that Superintendent Sean Bulson and others joined Harford County Executive Barry Glassman in announcing the first COVID-19 case had been identified in Harford County.

By the end of that week, most government operations in Maryland — including school systems — were shut down.

Harford’s school board held its April and May 2020 meetings exclusively by teleconference. By June 2020, some members of the board and staff resumed meeting in person at the Roberty building, but the public could only participate virtually, and that has remained the case through last month’s board meeting.

By the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the virtual public participation in meetings primarily consisted of participants questioning why schools had not fully reopened, or why more students were not returning to the classrooms, once a limited amount were allowed back.

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Some members of the public would gather outside the building prior to board meetings to protest the school system’s COVID-19 policies. In October, one of the protests continued as board members attempted to conduct its meeting, becoming so loud their shouts could be heard inside the building. The board called the meeting short — before Bulson could announce students would not be moving to a twice-a-week hybrid model in December as originally planned.

By early April, most students had returned to school four days a week.

The school system anticipates offering full-time, in-person instruction when classes resume Sept. 8 following summer break. Two blended virtual learning options will be offered next year based out of the Swan Creek School in Aberdeen, located at the former Center for Educational Opportunity building. More than 750 students across all grade levels signed up to learn virtually during the 2021-22 school year.

More recently, public comment at Board of Education meetings has focused on balancing enrollment, as the school system has contracted with FLO Analytics to review school boundaries to alleviate overcrowding in some buildings, and take advantage of underutilized space in others.

Five schools are already over capacity and enrollment is expected to grow in the next seven years. Moratoriums on residential development have been enacted in the areas around four elementary schools — Bel Air, Homestead-Wakefield, Havre de Grace and Red Pump — as well as Bel Air Middle School, as their student populations have reached 110% capacity, or are expected to reach that figure in the next few years.

If enrollment is rebalanced, schools in northern Harford County and the Joppa and Havre de Grace areas will also be overcapacity by 2026, school officials have said.

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