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Survey: About half of Howard students plan to return to classrooms in March and April for hybrid learning

About half of Howard County students will return for in-person learning when the public school system’s hybrid model begins to roll out in March, according to a survey conducted by the district.

The school system surveyed parents to determine whether they want their children to return to partial in-person learning in the hybrid model or stay in virtual learning, and 52.6% of students were opted into the hybrid plan.

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The district conducted the survey between Jan. 27 and Feb. 10, and 91.6% of students’ parents responded.

“I want to assure families and staff that our system is well-prepared to welcome them back to schools and offices,” schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting. “I am increasingly encouraged by the data emerging from other districts, which indicate that when implemented with strict safety protocols, there have been no significant COVID-19 outbreaks associated with school reopenings. Additionally ... our local metrics are continuing to improve.”

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In total, 52,358 out of 57,172 students’ parents responded to the survey, and 24,835 of them chose to remain in completely virtual learning. That’s compared to the 23,565 students who opted into the A-group/B-group hybrid plan. An additional 3,958 students opted into the school system’s five-day-a-week plan that was offered to about 9,500 students.

The five-day-a-week plan is for the district’s students who most need in-person learning, such as students with individualized educational plans and those who were invited by the school system in the fall to participate in in-person small group programs.

The 4,814 students whose parents or guardians did not respond to the survey will remain in virtual learning as the school system attempts to reach the family, according to schools spokesperson Brian Bassett. If all of those students do remain virtual, that means 51.9% of the district’s students will learn virtually compared to 48.1% in the hybrid or five-day-a-week plans.

All 77 public schools had response rates between 80% and 100% but not having all of the numbers causes challenges, Martirano said.

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“Response levels vary significantly among schools,” Martirano said. “This has significant implications because, due to social distancing requirements, the number of days each school can host students in person is dependent on building capacity, staff availability and how many students plan to return. We continue to reach out to families who have not submitted the survey to support them in expressing their decisions.”

About 3,100 of the students who chose hybrid said they would opt out if the plan changes from the current A-group/B-group plan — which would have an individual student in the classroom two days a week — to a one-day-a-week model. Anissa Dennis, the system’s chief school management and instructional leadership officer, said school administrators will analyze the combination of student and staff commitment data to determine if their school needs to switch to a one-day-a-week plan to maintain social distancing.

School system leaders have said in the past that a single school having 67% of its students returning for hybrid could necessitate moving to a one-day-a-week model, but Dennis didn’t say during the meeting if any schools were close to that percentage.

“Now that the survey is closed and schools have their data, administrators are in the process of comparing classroom capacities and student commitments to determine if students will be coming in one or two days a week for in-person learning,” Dennis said. “They will also have to take into account staffing implications from staffing commitments. We anticipate schools notifying their families the week of March 1 on whether they will return for one or two days a week.”

The hybrid learning plan will begin rolling out next month, with the few thousand students in the five-day-a-week model returning March 1. Then on March 15, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first and second grade students will return. On March 29, students in grades 3 through 6, 9 and 12 will return, while students in grades 7, 8, 10 and 11 will come back April 12.

As approved by the school board last month, the hybrid students will be placed on an A-day/B-day schedule, with one group learning in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will remain for self-guided instruction and homework.

The virtual option will be similar to what students have received for the last six months except on a different schedule that will also accommodate the hybrid in-person students. Teachers will be teaching both groups concurrently.

All students will see an increase in instructional time from about 12-13 hours a week to 20-25 hours.

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