School board votes to re-open schools with full re­mote learning

First five months of school year to be con­ducted vir­tu­ally

The Dundalk Eagle - - FRONT PAGE - By BILL GATES bgates@ches­pub.com

One week after be­ing pre­sented with three op­tions for re-open­ing Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools, the county school board met in a spe­cial ses­sion last week and opted to chose the safest op­tion.

By a vote of 11-1 on July 21, the school board de­cided to use re­mote learning for the en­tire first se­mes­ter that be­gins Sept. 8 and ends on Jan­uar y 29.

The re­quest to go with the plan for vir­tual learning rather than full in-per­son ed­u­ca­tion or a hy­brid plan of par­tial in­per­son and par­tial re­mote learning was made by BCPS Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Dar­ryl Wil­liams.

Wil­liams had made his pref­er­ence to start with full re­mote learning dur­ing the pre­vi­ous week’s meet­ing when the three op­tions were in­tro­duced.

“As we move for­ward to the open­ing of

schools in the fall, there are a num­ber of un­knowns and mov­ing parts that have yet to be con­sid­ered,” Wil­liams said dur­ing the pre­vi­ous week’s meet­ing. “To that end, I am lean­ing to­wards a vir­tual re­open­ing with some kind of phased-in ap­proach after we open.”

The school sys­tem hopes to build upon lessons learned when the county used a form of re­mote learning after the COVID-19 pan­demic shut down schools last spring from mid-March through the end of the school year.

Ac­cord­ing to the draft doc­u­ment re­leased by the county, schools will main­tain a bell sched­ule dur­ing this first se­mes­ter of re­mote learning.

Each in­di­vid­ual school will have flex­i­bil­ity in cre­at­ing its own bell sched­ule. Stu­dents will re­ceive a min­i­mum two hours and up to three-and-ahalf hours of live in­struc­tion from teach­ers each day and will then have up to three hours of in­de­pen­dent work.

At­ten­dance will be recorded daily and teach­ers will fol­low tra­di­tional grad­ing and re­port­ing pro­ce­dures for stu­dent work and as­sign­ments.

At the end of the first se­mes­ter (if the pan­demic al­lows), the school sys­tem will switch to a hy­brid in­struc­tional ap­proach for the rest of the school year which will bring some stu­dents back to the school build­ings for in-per­son ed­u­ca­tion for a few days a week on a ro­tat­ing ba­sis, while par­ents will have a choice to stay with re­mote learning for their chil­dren.

The county re-open­ing plan must still be ap­proved by the Mary­land State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

The county con­ducted a sur­vey after the 2019-20 school year and col­lected 52,000 re­sponses from stu­dents, par­ents and school staff.

Stu­dents pre­ferred to re­turn to full in-per­son ed­u­ca­tion, with that op­tion re­ceiv­ing 42 per­cent of the stu­dent vote while full re­mote learning got 20 per­cent.

Full re­mote learning was also the last op­tion pre­ferred by the par­ents re­spond­ing to the sur­vey; they opted for the hy­brid plan (34 per­cent) and full in-per­son (30 per­cent), with only 27 per­cent of par­ents choos­ing full re­mote learning.

School staff, how­ever, had 43 per­cent of re­spon­dents de­sir­ing full re­mote learning, while 35 per­cent chose the hy­brid plan and 23 per­cent the full in-per­son op­tion.

The de­ci­sion to go with full re­mote learning was also in­flu­enced by ris­ing COVID-19 in­fec­tion rates in Bal­ti­more County as of Jul 16m and med­i­cal mod­els pre­dict­ing an­other in­crease in in­fec­tions this fall.

The full 14-page draft pro­posal can be viewed on the Bal­ti­more County Schools web­site at bcps.org.

Dur­ing the dis­cus­sion of the re­mote learning plan dur­ing the school board meet­ing last week, an amend­ment was pro­posed stat­ing the plan would be re­viewed and re­vised as deemed ap­pro­pri­ate at the end of each aca­demic quar­ter. The mo­tion failed. An­other mo­tion amended the plan to in­clude hav­ing BCPS sur vey all “stake­hold­ers” at the end of each aca­demic quar­ter in or­der to garner feed­back and use it to im­prove the re­mote learning process.

That amend­ment passed by a 7-5 vote.

An amend­ment re­quir­ing teach­ers to pro­vide live in­struc­tion ev­ery school day, for ev­ery course, failed, while an amend­ment re­quir­ing BCPS to pro­vide guid­ance and re­sources for con­duct­ing school and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties in a vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment, passed.

Rod McMillion was the only board mem­ber to vote against re-open­ing schools with com­plete re­mote learning for the first se­mes­ter.

“I think fam­i­lies and teach­ers need to have a choice on whether they want to as­sume the risk,” McMillion said.

PHOTO BY MIKE URSERY

Pub­lic school cam­puses across Dun­dalk have been closed since March. Those cam­puses will re­main empty un­til after Jan. 29 at the ear­li­est. The Bal­ti­more County School Board voted last week for Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools to have a vir­tual be­gin­ning to the 2020-21 aca­demic year.

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