BCPS still work­ing out some kinks to re­open­ing plan

The Dundalk Eagle - - NEWS - By KAITLIN KULICH kkulich@ches­pub.com

BAL­TI­MORE COUNTY— Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools has up­dated its re­open­ing plan af­ter hold­ing a school board meet­ing where ques­tions and con­cerns were brought up about the up­com­ing school year.

Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools (BCPS) will have vir­tual learn­ing planned from Tues­day, Septem­ber 8, 2020, through the end of the first se­mes­ter on Jan­uary 29, 2021. How­ever, at the end of the first quar­ter, the board will reeval­u­ate this decision in or­der to de­ter­mine if a hy­brid of both vir­tual and face-to-face classes could take place.

As an­nounced in July, teach­ers will pro­vide live, vir­tual in­struc­tion on Mon­day, Tues­day, Thurs­day, and Fri­day, in ad­di­tion to in­de­pen­dent stu­dent work and small group in­struc­tion. Wed­nes­days are re­served for tar­geted stu­dent in­ter­ven­tion and in­de­pen­dent stu­dent work. School sched­ules will pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for move­ment and screen and lunch breaks.

The ver­sion of the up­dated plan, which was de­vel­oped by BCPS and com­mu­nity lead­ers based on com­mu­nity sur­veys, ad­vi­sory groups, and ad­vice from health and ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts, in­cludes ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about at­ten­dance, special ed­u­ca­tion, as­sess­ments, sched­ules, and ath­let­ics, among other top­ics. The en­tire plan can be viewed at www.bcps. org/re­open/pdf/Re­open­ing-Plan.pdf.

BCPS is­sued its re­open­ing sur­vey af­ter the end of the 2019-2020 school year. In ad­di­tion to the 16 stake­holder in­put ses­sions, the pub­lic sur­vey gar­nered over 52,000 re­sponses from stu­dents, par­ents/ care­givers, com­mu­nity mem­bers, and cen­tral of­fice and school-based staff. The sur­vey asked, among other con­sid­er­a­tions, for re­spon­dents to rank their pre­ferred model of in­struc­tion to start the com­ing school year: 100% in-per­son in­struc­tion, a com­bi­na­tion of in-per­son and vir­tual in­struc­tion, and 100% vir­tual in­struc­tion.

There was no clear agree­ment among the model pref­er­ences of stu­dents, school-based staff, and par­ents/care­givers, so the BCPS De­sign Team con­tin­ued to con­sider start­ing the 2020-2021 school year with a 100% vir­tual learn­ing or a hy­brid model of syn­chro­nous (live) and asyn­chro­nous (any­time) in­struc­tion.

As the team ex­am­ined the mod­els fur­ther, sev­eral im­ple­men­ta­tion chal­lenges emerged that re­duced the fea­si­bil­ity of im­ple­ment­ing each model. There­fore, the decision to be­gin the school year with 100% vir­tual in­struc­tion was made based on the ris­ing COVID-19 in­fec­tion rates as of July 16, 2020, and the med­i­cal mod­els, which pre­dict a sec­ond in­crease in COVID-19 in­fec­tions af­ter the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

There were many ques­tions that were brought up at the nearly four hour school board meet­ing; stu­dent safety, ac­ces­si­bil­ity to in­ter­net and quality of ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ence were among the most talked about con­cerns among the board mem­bers.

“While this is usu­ally a re­laxed time, it is not re­laxed now be­cause we are com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing the very best for ev­ery child in Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools,” Kath­leen Causey, School Board Chair said at the start of the meet­ing.

Wil­liam Burke, Chief of Or­ga­ni­za­tional Ef­fec­tive­ness, ad­dressed many of the ques­tions brought up by board mem­bers through­out the meet­ing and be­gan by ad­dress­ing three keys as­pects of the vir­tual re­open­ing plan; health and safety of stu­dents and staff, stu­dents will have a rig­or­ous in­struc­tion which will con­sist of teacher-led in­struc­tion and in­de­pen­dent work and small group col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Burke then dived into more spe­cific part of the plan like at­ten­dance and grad­ing cri­te­ria. At­ten­dance will be taken daily for ele­men­tary stu­dents and at­ten­dance for mid­dle and high school stu­dents will be taken per class pe­riod. In­stead of the pass or fail grad­ing pro­ce­dure im­ple­mented at the start of vir­tual learn­ing in March, grades will re­turn to the orig­i­nal let­ter grad­ing scale ( A, B, C etc.).

“Di­ag­nos­tic as­sess­ments will also be ad­min­is­tered for each grade level and con­tent area in or­der to di­ag­nose any un­fin­ished learn­ing dur­ing this past spring quar­ter,” Burke said.

“These as­sess­ments will al­low teach­ers to see where stu­dents stand on crit­i­cal con­tent and pre­req­ui­site skills in or­der for them to de­velop in­struc­tion and learn­ing path­ways tai­lored to stu­dents’ needs.”

Stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties will also con­tinue to have the sup­port from their In­di­vid­u­al­ized Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram (IEP). Burke ad­vised par­ents with chil­dren who have IEPs to no­tify the Special Ed­u­ca­tion Re­source Cen­ter by call­ing (410)-8875443 if they need any ad­di­tional sup­port while their child con­tin­ues their vir­tual learn­ing.

As for preschool­ers and pre-kinder­garten­ers, ma­te­ri­als will be mailed to stu­dents’ homes for each cur­ric­u­lar unit and teach­ers will con­tact stu­dents and fam­i­lies for di­rect in­struc­tion.

In terms of pre­par­ing teach­ers for more vir­tual in­struc­tion, work­shops are be­ing of­fered this month that will pro­vide tips on how to suc­cess­fully run vir­tual class­rooms.

“Teach­ers have the op­tion of par­tic­i­pat­ing in work­shops dur­ing the weeks of Au­gust 17 and the 24 to help them pre­pare for more on­line teach­ing. Top­ics will be on best prac­tices for on­line les­son de­vel­op­ment and de­liv­ery, how to im­prove the func­tion­al­ity of Schooligy and Google Meet, and how to meet the so­cial and emotional needs of stu­dents in an on­line en­vi­ron­ment,” Burke said.

There were board mem­bers who said de­spite the train­ing teach­ers will go through, they still have con­cerns about teacher’s abil­i­ties to as­sist chil­dren who have prob­lems log­ging on to their vir­tual class en­vi­ron­ments.

Burke said it is not de­cided yet if it will be up to teach­ers or a spe­cific per­son as­signed to trou­bleshoot tech­no­log­i­cal is­sues to con­tact a stu­dent’s par­ents or care­givers if/when a child is un­able to ac­cess their vir­tual class­room.

“That would be dif­fi­cult in an im­me­di­ate sit­u­a­tion, de­pend­ing on the num­ber of stu­dents [a teacher] was work­ing with and the ac­tiv­ity they were run­ning. I hate to say yes or no be­cause I think it’s some­thing we need to ex­plore.”

Burk said BCPS is still con­tem­plat­ing on ways to en­sure teach­ers have sta­ble in­ter­net and WiFi ac­cess— some­thing that was a prob­lem for some teach­ers dur­ing the spring when they failed to at­tend their own

class meet­ings.

“It does in­clude hotspots and it may in­clude pro­vid­ing ac­tual lo­ca­tions where they would have bet­ter ac­cess but we are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing those op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Burke said.

Hotspots will also be set up at the homes of fam­i­lies who live in more ru­ral ar­eas where WiFi con­nec­tion tends to be weaker or where many fam­i­lies don’t have strong in­ter­net ac­cess. BCPS is also par tner­ing with the county on small, ru­ral broad­band grants to ex­pand wire­less ser­vices to park­ing lots of key schools in ru­ral ar­eas.

A ques­tion was brought up on whether there would be school re­source of­fi­cers present at these park­ing lots while stu­dents and their fam­i­lies were there. Su­per­in­ten­dant Dar­ryl Wil­liams re­sponded and said BCPS will work on a safety plan with the county to en­sure that stu­dents who need to use the park­ing lot hotspots can do so in a safe way.

An­other con­cern that was brought up at the meet­ing was re­lated to stu­dent safety and pri­vacy when it comes to vir­tual class­rooms. Tra­di­tional school class­rooms typ­i­cally only have the stu­dents and teach­ers in them. How­ever, with the vir­tual class­rooms, fam­ily mem­bers and care­givers of stu­dents can also have ac­cess to the class­rooms and hear and see what stu­dents are say­ing and do­ing.

Burke said that the code of ethics that will be re­leased will ad­dress safety and pri­vacy is­sues and said pro­vid­ing head­phones to stu­dents may be a way to es­tab­lish a buf­fer be­tween the class­room and home en­vi­ron­ments of stu­dents.

The amount of screen time for stu­dents, es­pe­cially for younger stu­dents in kin­der­garten and ele­men­tary school, was also an­other con­cern among board mem­bers.

“We will make sure kids aren’t just sit­ting around a screen all day hear­ing a teacher teach,” Burke said in his re­ply. “They will have op­por­tu­ni­ties to turn off the screen and do in­de­pen­dent work or work in small groups.”

Stu­dent mem­ber of the board Josh Muhu­muza asked if lessons would be recorded in or­der for stu­dents to re­watch them if for some rea­son they missed them.

Burk said the topic of record­ing classes or spe­cific lessons has been a sub­ject of con­tro­versy due to con­cerns sur­round­ing stu­dent pri­vacy but said teach­ers will have the op­tion of whether they choose to record their lessons or not.

“I’m hope­ful that they will be­cause then they can bank them as re­sources for stu­dents later,” Burke said.

More in­for­ma­tion about the re­open­ing plan was re­vealed in a BCPS press re­lease last week. The re­lease states that through the end of the first mark­ing pe­riod on Novem­ber 13, 2020, ad­min­is­tra­tions of the SAT col­lege en­trance exam, the SAT day ini­tia­tive pro­vid­ing the SAT for free dur­ing the school day, and the PSAT are can­celed.

The re­lease also stated that Chrome­book dis­tri­bu­tion for stu­dents in Grades Kin­der­garten through 12 will con­tinue un­til a 1:1 stu­dent-to-de­vice ra­tio is achieved.

BCPS will sur­vey fam­i­lies from De­cem­ber 1-18 re­gard­ing in­ter­est in con­tin­u­ing vir­tual learn­ing or opt­ing into hy­brid (in-per­son and vir­tual) in­struc­tion, if safe to do so for Fe­bru­ary through June 2021.


Re­open­ing model pref­er­ences by stake­holder group and im­ple­men­ta­tion chal­lenges of in-per­son and hy­brid in­struc­tion. 42% of BCPS stu­dents who par­tic­i­pated in the Sur­vey said they pre­fer 100% in per­son learn­ing while 42.9% of BCPS staff mem­ber s who par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey said they pre­fer 100% vir­tual learn­ing.

The re­open­ing plan can be viewed at https://www.bcps.org/re­open/pdf/Reopen­ingPlan.pdf

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