How Different School Districts Are Planning to Reopen in the Fall

Dr. Monica Goldson, CEO of the Prince George's County Public Schools. Photo by Melissa Howells/WTOP

Now about halfway into summer break, school districts across Maryland are beginning to announce their reopening plans for the fall.

“We cannot and should not rush this decision,” Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said at a news conference on Wednesday. “It’s absolutely critical that we get it right for our communities.”

Hogan said he will hold a news conference next week with state Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon to give an update on reopening schools.

In June, the State Department of Education provided a 73-page resource guide called “Maryland Together: Recovery Plan for Education” for school districts to use as they plan for the upcoming school year.

Among the non-negotiable requirements were addressing equity in all components of the plan, establishing a recovery plan stakeholder group and identifying gaps in learning.

All school systems must submit their recovery plan by Aug. 14 for MSDE to review, and a few have already announced a more detailed draft reopening plan.

A hybrid model or an all virtual model are among the most discussed and debated among administrators, parents and teachers. Maryland teachers’ unions and the state PTA wrote a letter to Hogan and Salmon, asking for schools to begin entirely online in the fall.

Here are what some of Maryland’s school districts have planned so far:

Montgomery County

Montgomery Public Schools, the largest school system in the state, released a 21-page draft on Saturday, which says officials expect to begin the school year on Aug. 31 — fully online.

When asked what the appropriate conditions for students and staff to transition into school buildings would look like, Superintendent Jack Smith in a news conference on Wednesday said, “There’s not an answer to that question.”

Montgomery County has had over 16,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 700 related deaths.

During the virtual-only learning phase, students will attend live classes on weekdays except on Wednesday, which is reserved for individualized student support, professional development and grading.

When safe, the youngest students in elementary, middle and high school will be the first ones to transition into school buildings. Older grades will follow after 2-4 weeks, but the length of time can change depending on current public health conditions.

“The goal is for all grade levels to be in a school rotation by end of November,” the draft says.

Once in the brick-and-mortar buildings, elementary and middle school students will be divided into two groups, one attending school on Monday and Tuesday, and the other on Thursday and Fridays. High school students will be divided into three groups.

All students will engage in independent work at home on Wednesdays, which is reserved for deep cleaning of school buildings and professional development for educators.

Montgomery school buses will only seat 12 passengers in the fall, which is 25% of its 50-passenger capacity. 

Survey results indicated a split between parents and teachers on how they wanted schools to reopen in the fall. Forty-two percent of parents reported that they would send their child to schools for in-person learning and 22% said they would choose the entirely virtual option.

Fifty-two percent of teachers and staff expressed that they would want an option to work virtually, while 25% said they would return to school buildings to teach in person.

The Montgomery County Board of Education will meet again on Aug. 6 to make further recommendations for a projected date to bring students back to school buildings, Smith said on Thursday in a live virtual conversation about the recovery plan.

Prince George’s County

Students will begin school on Aug. 31 fully online until Jan. 29, Prince George County’s Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said in a virtual announcement Wednesday. Prince George County has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland (more than 20,000) and over 700 related deaths.

Students will have full school days for five days a week. Special needs students and English-language learners have the opportunity for small group instruction, Goldson said.

Teachers can also choose to teach virtually from their school classrooms, where they will have access to more material. PGCPS is partnering with the University of Maryland for professional development to prepare teachers for virtual learning, Goldson said during a town hall on Wednesday.

Students will begin to move into school buildings for a combination of in-person and virtual learning in February, if public health conditions permit. However, families will have an option to stay in full-time distance learning in the second semester as well.

Parents and educators were again split between a fully virtual curriculum and a hybrid model, according to survey results. Forty-six percent of parents expressed that they wanted to continue with distance learning only, while 42% preferred a combination of distance learning and in-person.

Fifty-one percent of educators said they preferred to teach fully online and 41% preferred a hybrid model.

PGCPS will release a report next week about how the school system plans to support students during distance learning, particularly English language learners, special needs students and those from low-income families. A special Board of Education meeting will take place at the end of July for review.

Anne Arundel County

Anne Arundel school officials will announce their reopening plans by the end of July, but they have already eliminated a few proposals. The school district said on Wednesday it will not return to entirely in-person classrooms or operate school buses at full capacity.

Administrators are still considering a hybrid model with groups of students attending school on two consecutive days, as opposed to two alternating days.

In a board meeting earlier this month, school officials said their reopening priorities were to disinfect school buildings and buses, prepare the schools to meet social distance and safety requirements, prepare schools for academic recovery and communicate with families about the reopening process.

School officials also presented survey results, indicating that 49% of parents in Anne Arundel said they preferred in-person learning in the fall, while 20% wanted a fully online curriculum and 32% preferred a combination of the two.

The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County conducted its own survey, asking teachers and staff members about their thoughts on school reopening. Forty-one percent of respondents expressed that they were not sure if they would feel comfortable teaching in school buildings this fall. Thirty-five percent said they were comfortable and 24% said they were not.

Anne Ardundel has more than 5,700 COVID-19 cases and over 200 related deaths.

Baltimore City

Baltimore City schools are still in engagement mode, Chief of Schools John Davis said in a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday. School officials are still gathering input from surveys, as well as listening to parents in focus groups. The school system will present its draft reopening plans to the school board on July 28.

Recent survey results showed that 47% of families prefer distance learning while 41% favored a hybrid model.

“Maybe one wins over another, but this isn’t like a basketball game or a baseball game where you win 3-2,” Davis said. “The real analysis of this is that most people are split.”

Sixty-one percent of staff indicated that they would not return to work in-person in the fall and 72% preferred an all virtual learning experience.

Baltimore City will also upgrade air filters in school buildings that have central air conditioning. For the 20% of the buildings without central air conditioning, administrators will make sure all windows are functioning so that staff and students can open them for fresh air. School officials are also looking into air purifier systems and low pressure fans, Chief of Operations Lynette Washington said during the town hall.

In a previous town hall, CEO Sonja Santelises said that the school system has “no plans to open schools fully K-12.” Regardless of whether or not Baltimore City offers a hybrid model in the fall, parents will have a choice to enroll in an all-virtual learning experience, Santelises said.

Similar to other school districts’ hybrid models, BCPS plans to split students into two groups. Students would go into school buildings for in-person learning twice a week, and one day would be dedicated to additional cleaning and support in school buildings. The system has not specified whether each group would come into buildings for two alternating or consecutive days.

Baltimore City has more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 200 related deaths.

Baltimore County

Baltimore County is still in the midst of drafting its reopening plans, but Superintendent Darryl L. Williams said he is “leaning towards a virtual return with some type of phasing approach after we open” during a virtual board meeting on Tuesday.

In addition to distance learning, the school system is also considering a combination of in-person and remote learning, as well as an option to fully reopen schools.

School officials will finalize reopening plans at the next board meeting on Aug. 11, three days before the MSDE deadline.

Baltimore County has more than 9,000 COVID-19 cases and over 500 related deaths.

Late on Thursday, Howard and Harford counties announced that they would begin their school years remotely, through at least the first half of the academic year.

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