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Here’s what online learning could look like for Howard County students this fall

In addition to approving a fully online model for schools through January, the Howard County Board of Education on Thursday discussed what online learning could look like for the public school system’s nearly 59,000 students.

The schedules, which aren’t yet official, included in the school system’s reopening presentation show a dramatic increase of instructional time for students and teachers compared to distance learning in the spring when school buildings were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the preliminary plan, students at all levels would receive about 12 hours of synchronous learning per week — live instruction with teachers — with additional self-guided work.

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In the spring, elementary students received one hour of synchronous learning per week while secondary students received three-and-a-half hours of live instruction on top of assignments that weren’t done in real-time. When schools functioned normally, students received about 24 to 30 hours of in-school learning a week

“The virtual instructional model will be significantly more rigorous than the spring continuity of learning program,” schools Superintendent Michael Martirano wrote in an email to staff Thursday night. “... The schedules will be refined as our planning continues, and finalized schedules will be provided prior to the start of school.”

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After schools closed March 13, the school system took more than a month to launch its virtual learning program. That online model was criticized by some as not having enough content instruction. A majority of parents responded in a survey by the school system that they prefer more instruction and more live meetings if an online model were to be chosen for the fall.

Board member Christina Delmont-Small, who was the only board member to vote against the virtual model Thursday, said during the meeting that the school system “failed” its students in the spring.

“They didn’t get the full complement, clearly, of what they would have gotten if we would have been in the classroom,” Delmont-Small said. “We need to make sure we get this right — I mean, really get this right. We’ve taken parent choice out of this, and we’ve made the [decision].”

“Our staff was turning on a dime, and they did a really good job, even if everyone didn’t appreciate it,” Colleen Morris, president of the county teachers’ union, said in response.

“Our teachers didn’t fail our students,” Delmont-Small later said. “We failed our students, and we failed our teachers.”

The biggest schedule change will be at the secondary level, as middle and high school students will shift to a semester-based model for the 2020-21 academic year. As opposed to having seven classes all year, secondary students will have four classes in each semester.

Each student will participate in about three hours of live learning four days a week, with Wednesday as a day for asynchronous assignments for students and professional development and planning for teachers.

“At all three levels there is dedicated time for synchronous additional support,” said Scott Ruehl, the school system’s director of leadership development. “This additional support time can be used to provide additional [assistance for] Individualized Education Program [and] English language learners as needed or to provide students with additional synchronous support.”

To sustain an online model, the school system announced Thursday it will shift its plans on how to distribute its more than 46,000 Chromebook laptops among its nearly 59,000 students. Instead of providing every secondary student with a device, the school system will give Chromebooks to every elementary and middle school student for virtual learning.

The remaining devices will then be given to high school students based on need. Any high schooler who was issued a Chromebook in the spring can keep that device. Martirano also said families with internet or connectivity issues, which could be 2% of households according to a survey by the school system, will be provided with assistance.

“Until our system is 1:1 [in the ratio of devices to students] we are going to have to depend on personal devices at some level,” schools Deputy Superintendent Karalee Turner-Little said. “Now that the decision is to begin with all students in a virtual environment for a semester, we believe our younger students would benefit more with a consistent device.”

Here is what online learning could look like on the four synchronous learning days for elementary, middle and high school students, according to the school system’s preliminary plan:

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Elementary school students

  • 9:05-9:20 a.m.: Social emotional learning (live)
  • 9:20-10:20 a.m.: English language arts (live)
  • 10:30-11:30 a.m.: Math (live)
  • 11:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m.: Lunch/assignments
  • 12:50-1:50 p.m.: Additional synchronous support if needed
  • 1:50-2:50 p.m.: Related arts (live)
  • 2:50-3:50 p.m.: Asynchronous learning/assignments

Middle school students

  • 8:45-9:25 a.m.: Asynchronous learning/assignments
  • 9:25-9:45 a.m.: Additional synchronous support if needed
  • 9:45-10 a.m.: Social emotional learning (live)
  • 10-10:45 a.m.: Period 1 (live)
  • 11-11:45 a.m.: Period 2 (live)
  • 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: Lunch/assignments
  • 12:45-1:30 p.m.: Period 3 (live)
  • 1:45-2:30 p.m.: Period 4 (live)
  • 2:40-3 p.m.: Additional synchronous support if needed
  • 3-3:30 p.m.: Asynchronous learning/assignments

High school students

  • 7:45-8:25 a.m.: Asynchronous learning/assignments
  • 8:25-8:45 a.m.: Additional synchronous support if needed
  • 8:45-9 a.m.: Flex time (live)
  • 9-9:45 a.m.: Period 1 (live)
  • 10-10:45 a.m.: Period 2 (live)
  • 10:45 a.m.-noon: Lunch/assignments
  • 12-12:45 p.m.: Period 3 (live)
  • 1-1:45 p.m.: Period 4 (live)
  • 1:45-2:05 p.m.: Additional synchronous support if needed
  • 2:05-2:30 p.m.: Asynchronous learning/assignments

(Note: These proposed schedules reflect what virtual school could look like on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, students will have only asynchronous work and assignments.)

The school system must send its reopening plans to the Maryland State Department of Education by Aug. 14. Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education, as laid out by the state, has 13 requirements for school districts in planning their reopening, including college and career readiness requirements, Individualized Education Program protocols, attendance tracking and safety protocols.

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