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Howard County Times
Howard County

Howard school board approves plan allowing virtual learning to replace snow days up to three times this school year

The Howard Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that allows the superintendent to activate virtual instruction days up to three times this school year, when poor weather closes school buildings.

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The board voted 8-0 in favor of the plan, which gives Superintendent Michael Martirano discretion to call for “asynchronous instruction” on up to three school days. On these days students would not have live online instruction, instead they would access and complete assignments at any point during the day. On these days no new learning materials would be introduced or assessments given and students would have up to 10 days to complete work if they have connectivity issues.

School staff presented the plan to the Board of Education in September and officials asked for community feedback.

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A survey posted online Sept. 16-26 generated more than 10,000 responses, 67% of whom approved of the policy. More than 80% of staff and 70% of families were in favor of the plan; nearly 60% of the 2,441 student respondents were opposed to it.

“The students didn’t like [the plan], but they’ll like it in June,” said Board of Education Chair Vicky Cutroneo. “They might change their minds.”

Student school board member Abisola Ayoola said many students she heard from were concerned about losing snow days, which they view as a key part of their childhood. She said using asynchronous days will still afford students the flexibility to enjoy the day while also helping end the school year on time.

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“Most teachers I’ve spoken to said that they’re not going to assign any rigorous assignments on those snow days,” Ayoola said. “People will really have more time to themselves than they think they will.”

The Maryland State Department of Education set guidelines earlier this year allowing local districts to implement virtual instruction on up to eight inclement weather days, as long as virtual days would not negatively impact students’ grades or employees’ pay.

If the asynchronous plan is activated in Howard, middle and high school students will access assignments posted online to Canvas, while pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students can complete asynchronous tasks virtually or use hard copies distributed by teachers. The plan does not include live instruction since not all elementary students have access to school-issued devices.

“[This plan is] mostly to ensure that there’s continuity of learning and to avoid the lack of continuity of learning that happens at the end of the school year,” said Ebony Langford-Brown, executive director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, who presented the survey results.

The last day of classes in HCPSS is scheduled for June 13 if no poor weather forces schools to close. With three asynchronous learning days and five inclement weather days built into the calendar, HCPSS confirmed the last day of school would be June 15, although the school system’s original document reflected a different date.

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