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BALTIMORE COUNTY—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 January 29.

The request to go with the plan for virtual learning rather than full in-person education or a hybrid plan of partial in-person and partial remote learning was made by BPS 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 COVIF-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-a-half 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 survey 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.

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