In addition to approving a hybrid model to begin rolling out March 1, the Howard County Board of Education also discussed earlier this week what that learning plan could look like for students amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The schedules, which aren’t yet official, included in the school system’s reopening presentation show an increase of instructional time for students and teachers compared to the virtual learning model the system has been using since September. In the preliminary plan, which the system will continue working on in the next few weeks, students would receive about 20 to 25 hours of live learning with teachers, in addition to self-guided work.
In virtual learning this year, students at all levels receive about 12 to 13 hours of instruction per week on top of nonlive instruction and homework, mostly done on Wednesdays when teachers are planning and receiving training. When schools functioned normally prior to the pandemic, students received about 24 to 30 hours of in-school learning a week.
The approval of a hybrid model was a change of course for the school board, which had voted in November to keep kids in virtual learning through at least mid-April. However, the board was spurred to action following Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement on Jan. 21 that he would explore consequences for school systems that didn’t get students back in classrooms by March 1.
The plan, which was approved unanimously Tuesday, will not require any student who does not want to learn in person to return to buildings. Every student will be offered a 100% virtual option, while another group of students most in need of support will be offered a five-day-a-week option.
A plurality of the system’s students, however, will likely be in the A-group/B-group plan. One group will learn in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other will be in school buildings on Thursdays and Fridays. When group A is in classrooms, group B will be learning virtually, and vice versa. Educators will be teaching both their in-person and virtual students concurrently.
Wednesdays will not change much, as most students will use the day to complete nonlive assignments, and teachers will plan and receive training.
Here is what the new learning model could look like on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for elementary, middle and high school students, according to the district’s preliminary plan:
Elementary school students
9:45-10:15 a.m.: Morning meeting/social emotional learning
10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.: English language arts
12:15-1:15 p.m.: Lunch/recess
1:15-2:15 p.m.: Related arts
2:15-3:30 p.m.: Math
3:30-4:15 p.m.: Content
Middle school students
8-9:25 a.m.: Period 1
9:30-10:55 a.m.: Period 2
11 a.m.-1:15 p.m.: Period 3 and lunch
1:20-2:45 p.m.: Period 4
High school students
7:45-9:10 a.m.: Period 1
9:15-10:40 a.m.: Period 2
10:45 a.m.-1 p.m.: Period 3 and lunch
1:05-2:30 p.m.: Period 4
(Note: These proposed schedules are not final, and schedules will vary based on bus routes and transitions between classes. Elementary schools could have staggered start times.)
The model will split students who opt in to the plan into four different groups to be phased in from March 1 through April 12.
The first phase will be made up of the district’s students who most need in-person learning, such as students with individualized educational plans and students who participated in small group in-person programs in the fall. These students, and the staff to assist them, will return March 1 and will be in school buildings five days a week, with Wednesdays as a half-day.
The second phase, beginning March 15, includes students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first and second grade.
The third phase, set to start March 29, includes grades 3 through 6, 9 and 12, as well as students who participate in the county’s Applications and Research Laboratory.
The final phase is for students in grades 7, 8, 10 and 11. They can return to buildings on April 12.
Students and staff will be required to wear masks when in school buildings, and fewer students being in classrooms in the hybrid plan can allow for better social distancing. Students and staff will be provided with three-ply masks.
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The system will soon survey families on which option they will choose for their children, as well as determine which staff members will retire, take leave or resign rather than return to school buildings amid the pandemic.