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Harford private schools weighing options for next year, some plan to have students return to campus

Charles Shaw, maintanence worker at The John Carroll School, power washes the sidewalk at the school's entrance on Thursday, July 23. John Carroll's staff is exploring several options for next year, including classes in person, distance learning, or a hybrid option in which students are in school on alternate days.
Charles Shaw, maintanence worker at The John Carroll School, power washes the sidewalk at the school's entrance on Thursday, July 23. John Carroll's staff is exploring several options for next year, including classes in person, distance learning, or a hybrid option in which students are in school on alternate days. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

While Harford County Public Schools officials are, at present, planning for an all-virtual first semester of the 2020-21 school year, the area’s private schools are either reviewing a number of options for next year — including holding classes in person, distance learning or a hybrid of the two — or they expect their campuses to be open to students and staff when the next academic year starts in September.

The John Carroll School in Bel Air is exploring several options for next year, including classes in person, distance learning, or a hybrid option in which students are in school on alternate days. School administrators expect to release their final plan in early August, according to Principal Tom Durkin, who noted things could still change depending on directives from the state.

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A new-student orientation is scheduled for Aug. 31, and classes for all students are scheduled to begin Sept. 1, according to John Carroll’s web page on reopening.

If a “sharp spike” in the spread of the virus happens, or Gov. Larry Hogan issues another stay-at-home order, which he issued in late March and has since lifted, then “we have no option — we have to go to distance learning,” Durkin said Tuesday.

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John Carroll, which serves students in ninth through 12th grade and is expected to have about 700 students next year, has the infrastructure in place to provide online learning, as each student and teacher has their own electronic device, according to Durkin.

The school has had a 1:1 ratio of students to devices for several years and continued to hold classes online even when the campus was closed on snow days in the past. Teachers shifted to distance learning “right away” when school had to close in the spring because of the pandemic “so our students could stay in some type of normal routine with their school expectations,” Durkin said.

All types of classes could happen online — Durkin cited as an example a college-preparatory dance class, in which students recorded videos of their dance routines and posted them online for their teachers to see.

The principal called the shift to distance learning “the greatest academic pivot in the history of John Carroll.”

“Our students and our faculty did an extraordinary job,” he said.

Harford Day School

Susan Kearney, head of Harford Day School in Bel Air, said in a video message posted on the school’s website that it intends to open Sept. 8 for in-person instruction, barring any executive order preventing it from doing so.

The school, which serves students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, has “many advantages” as a small school when it comes to reopening, Kearney noted. They include a large 12-acre campus on which small classes can be accommodated, plus school administrators can ensure social distancing guidelines are followed and movement can be limited during the school day.

She stressed that school officials are taking their role to protect the Harford Day community, “very, very seriously and with great caution,” and they have sought guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maryland State Department of Education, the Building Owners and Managers Association, as well as national and regional independent school associations while developing the reopening plan.

“Our number-one priority is the health and well being and safety of your children, our faculty, our staff and the broader community,” Kearney said.

A number of health and safety measures will be in effect when students, faculty and staff return to school, including those related to wearing face masks, social distancing, temperature checks, regular cleaning and disinfection of buildings, rooms and classroom materials, vehicle traffic flow on campus — a space has even been set aside for quarantine in accordance with CDC guidelines, according to Kearney.

Officials also are upgrading infrastructure so classes can be livestreamed online if students are not able to be on campus physically, although “it is our hope and expectation, of course, that students will be on campus when we’re officially open,” Kearney said.

The school’s plan does incorporate “flexibility and adaptability” for families of students that might not be able to return to campus or do not feel comfortable doing so, she said.

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“We are so excited to be here and to plan for a return to school in the fall,” Kearney said. “It may not be the normal that we’re all used to, but we are doing everything we can to create spaces and opportunities for learning, for exploration and for fun.”

Harford Christian School

Administrators of Harford Christian School in Darlington also plan to have their school, which serves students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, open for in-person classes on Sept. 8, according to the HCS website.

A video and documents giving details on Harford Christian’s reopening plan have been posted online. The school provided distance learning as private and public school systems throughout Maryland closed for in-person classes in mid-March. Officials with HCS noted in their reopening plan that “the need for our Christian community to seek and maintain unity cannot be overstated,” though.

“While Christians are biblically-directed to NOT live in fear, each person still makes daily decisions about what levels of risk they are willing to assume,” according to the plan. “Any policies in place for school re-opening can only mitigate (not eliminate) the risk of COVID-19 exposure.”

School officials are looking into options using “instructional technology” to support students who cannot be on campus. Those students should be able to have “some level of access to classroom activity and a means of exchange between teacher and student for homework and assessment during the period of their absence,” according to the plan.

That document lays out, in detail, the measures HCS will take to mitigate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, including regular cleaning and disinfecting, social distancing and wearing face masks when people cannot social distance.

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