The Baltimore County Public Schools plan to gradually reopen schools to in-person instruction consisted of four phases.
Phase I, which would have reopened the county’s four Public Separate Day Schools — including Battle Monument School in Dundalk — on November 16, has been postponed due to health metrics related to the COVID-19 pandemic and opposition from teachers.
Phase II, which would have seen all students in Preschool through second grade return using a hybrid schedule of in-person instruction and remote learning, was scheduled to start on November 30. It has also now been delayed.
“Our county health metrics indicate a return by November 30 is not recommended,” Dr. Racquel Jones told the county Board of Education during its Nov. 10 meeting.
Dr. Jones, a member of the team developing the county’s reopening plan, said the county “is poised to implement our plan in a manner that will have students in Phase II re-enter schools on December 14.
“This will allow us time to monitor the metrics as well as launch the operational implementation steps in a manner that will allow staff, principals, transportation and our parents to plan accordingly. Of course, any return date for our staff and students is dependent on the health metrics at the time.”
Kathleen Causey, the Board of Education chairperson, had earlier cautioned: “We want to develop the best plan for reopening schools. But reopening of schools will only occur when the health metrics indicate it is safe.”
Those health metrics are a testing positivity rate of five percent or less and a new case rate of 15 (or less) per 100,000 people. Phase III of the school reopening plan would have seen students in outside general education and select CTE students in grades 3 through 12 return, while Phase 4 will bring back all students in third through 12th grade.
Phase II began on November 11 with the plan released to all stakeholders, followed by a questionnaire asking parents to select one of two options: return to school in a hybrid schedule, or remain with full-time virtual instruction.
Students would be divided into three cohorts: Cohort A would have in-school instruction on Monday and Tuesday and virtual learning Wednesday through Friday; Cohort B would virtual instruction Monday through Wednesday and in-school instruction Thursday and Friday; and Cohort C would do remote learning all week.
The deadline for answering the questionnaire was Monday. Staff were to return to school on Thursday, cohort development was to be finished on Friday, and school schedules and bus routes on Monday and Tuesday before students returned on the 30th.
As mentioned, students are now tentatively set to return on Dec. 14. Causey moved that, when metrics became positive for in-person instruction and all other work has been done, all four phases should start at the same time.
The motion failed, 10-2. A motion directing School Superintendent Dr. Darryl Williams and his staff to bring a detailed plan to the Board for a hybrid second semester by the second Board meeting in December was approved 8-3 with one abstention.
The decision to stop or delay any reopening plan will take place only after two straight weeks of concerning health metrics. Phase I, the reopening of the Public Separate Day Schools, remains on hold. The will reopen two weeks after the safe health metrics are met and maintained.