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State Board of Education Shifts Focus From COVID-19 to Implementing Blueprint

The Maryland State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution to prioritize implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Photo by Elizabeth Shwe.

With mask mandates largely lifted in schools and a growing public consensus around a return to a pre-pandemic normal, Maryland’s State Board of Education on Tuesday moved its focus from prioritizing in-person learning to implementing a sweeping 10-year plan to overhaul the state’s educational system and making “transformative change.”

The State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday, committing “to move with urgency to actualize the bold, transformative change that will be necessary to achieve the excellent and equitable outcomes our students deserve.”

The resolution acknowledged racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps that widened dramatically during remote learning and noted that about half of students who were proficient in third grade in 2019 were no longer considered proficient in fifth grade in 2021.

Although the resolution declares that Maryland has successfully transitioned back to in-person instruction, Board President Clarence Crawford acknowledged that the pandemic has not ended.

“COVID isn’t over, but hopefully, the worst part of it may be behind us,” Crawford told board members. The resolution is meant to anchor the board’s work before they finish their multi-year strategic plan to implement the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future by next fall.

“A document like this clearly articulates what our goals are, where we want to go and is a good starting point until the time that we have a strategic plan,” Crawford continued.

In last month’s board meeting, State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury described the resolution as an “opening salvo” to the upcoming strategic plan.

This marks a shift from a year ago, when the State Board of Education passed a resolution that directed all schools to return to in-person learning for a full 180-day school year and any exemptions would require state board approval. Students were required to wear masks when they returned to classrooms, but after a wave of infections from the omicron variant subsided, the Board of Education voted in February to rescind the statewide mask mandate.

All school districts except Prince George’s County have lifted the mask mandate in school buildings and buses. Prince George’s County has not set a date to lift the mask mandate, but Lori Morrow, the parent representative on the state board, said there is no vocal group pushing against continuing the mandate.

“That is their choice,” Choudhury said. “They’re not seeing lines of people making very strong demands to [rescind the mask mandate].”

Choudhury said that some groups have a “historical distrust that we’re safe again.”

“I think there’s work to be done there,” he said.

The state board’s resolution comes after the state superintendent reported better statewide COVID-19 metrics, with all districts reporting relatively low rates of positive COVID-19 tests over the last month. As of April 26, the state’s COVID-19 positive test rate is 4.57%.

Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland’s two largest of 24 school districts, had the most students in quarantine — 737 students and 755 students, respectively, as of April 26.

When asked why some counties had significantly higher rates of positive cases, Choudhury said that some counties test for COVID-19 more aggressively.