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Why couldn’t Harford schools find a way to provide online instruction earlier? [Letter]

As a parent of children in the Harford County Public School system, and the inability of the Board of Education to act and find novel solutions to an unprecedented problem (Aegis article of April 10, “School board waives some graduation requirements”), we have to ask why? Why couldn’t superintendent Bulson and the Board find a way to provide online instruction to the 40,000 students in the county and capitalize on the ubiquity of resources of this moment? Teachers are standing by. Parents are at home with their children. And students are given busy work to occupy their time.

The constraint had been posed that not all students in the county have access to technology. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 92% of households in Harford County have a computer. For those without, it should be possible to purchase adequate devices such as Carroll, Frederick, Prince George’s, Talbot, Washington and Wicomico counties have done. The budget doesn’t allow for that? What about the savings of fuel for school buses, which in a recent school budget was $945,000? That money is reserved for future use? What about expanding the distance from school that students must walk? Or perhaps have families donate old laptops, or lend extra ones? Or perhaps have a special fund-raising campaign in which residents (with a median income of over $80,000) pledge their government-issued coronavirus stimulus checks? Or require families without the technology to use half of the $500 stimulus check received for each of their schoolchildren to purchase their own Chromebook (and voluntarily pledge the other half for another student)? What about the 13.4% percent of households without broadband Internet service? Perhaps Comcast would provide free access, as they have in Montgomery and Calvert counties? Or provide free Internet access to the school system’s Internet wi-fi from the parking lots of all county schools, and not just North Harford High School (as Dr. Bulson announced only last week). Caroline County upgraded their wi-fi signal to provide such access back on March 30.

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The Board of Education and Dr. Bulson giving themselves an “out” by unanimous passage of a waiver of graduation requirements (and requirements for promotion to the next grade) only lessens the pressure on them to produce results. We all know the likelihood of schools returning to normal before the fall. So, will the required school year of 180 days be reduced to 150 days, at the students’ loss? Will high school students graduate with only 21 credits rather than 28? The current situation of giving students busywork with no coverage of new material has gone on for too long. I think Harford County can do better.

CHARLES DIERBACH

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