The Baltimore County Board of Education during its school board meeting last week listened to three scenarios under which schools may reopen in the fall.
The third option, a full in-person opening, is contingent on the state band county both being in Phase 3 of Gov. Larry Hogan’s “Roadmap to Recovery.”
Both the state and county are in Phase 2.
The first option is full remote learning by students, while the second option is a hybrid, with some students attending school in-person and others continuing to use remote learning.
No decision has been made, but Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Darryl L. Williams left no doubt as to his preference.
(The county school board held a special meeting on Tuesday after the Avenue went to press, during which it was to vote on a proposal to continue remote learning until January 29. It is expected to pass.)
“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. “To that end, I am leaning towards a virtual reopening with some kind of phased-in approach after we open.”
Williams quoted from a study he had read: “returning to school is important for the healthy development of children, but we must pursue reopening in a way that is safe for all our students, teachers and staff.
“Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools, and public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics.”
The three re-opening scenarios, as presented by Barbara Burnopp and Dr. Renard Adams of curriculum operations, are:
Scenario One — Assume the state and county are in Phase 1 of the recovery plan. Enhancements have been made to the remote learning system based upon lessons learned last spring and feedback from students, teachers and parents.
School physical facilities remain closed, all teaching is done remotely.
Scenario 2 — Assume the state and county are in Phase 2 of the recovery plan (the current state). All students have live interaction with teachers, either in-person or online. Mitigation strategies to prevent infection with COVID-19 are required.
Schools are open at 30 to 35 percent of capacity, with students attending school on an A Week/B Week/C Week rotation; or schools open at 50 percent capacity using an A Week/B Week rotation.
Teachers are on duty Monday through Friday, with Friday a planning day. Students attend school Monday through Thursday, with Friday an online instruction day.
Students attending school in-person would be cohorted by address.
Scenario 3 — Assume the state and county are in Phase 3 of the “Roadmap” recovery plan. Mitigation measures such as enhanced cleaning, screening for symptoms, isolation of sick persons and enforcement of quarantines will be strictly required.
Social distancing may be relaxed, and face coverings may be optional. All students, teachers and staff return to school buildings.
Dr. Renard and Burnoff emphasized the scenarios “were not a finalized plan, but show the parameters that have guided our thinking while we gathered stakeholder input and feedback.”
Also: “the decision to open schools, how to open schools, or whether to continue remote learning, will be conditions-based, not time-based.
“The decisions will be based on consideration of science-based trigger points articulated by public health officials along with any binding directives from state or local authorities; decisions will not be based on a fixed timeline. There will not be a predetermined timeline for resumption of activities; rather will allow the condition of the environment, and health guidelines, to determine what actions are taken.”
For student safety in the event of scenario 2 or 3 being used, the school system will use its mitigation strategy that has been approved by the county health department and aligns with guidelines from the Center for Disease Control:
Social distancing, screening, healthy operations (no shared use of items, making sure indoor air is mixed with outside air), cleaning (building surfaces and individual’s hands), communications and responses.
Students will also adhere to safety protocols and participate in drills, and visitors to the schools will be limited and screened.
Social distancing will be practiced on school buses will students seated one per row, and buses carrying between nine and 21 students rather than 64.
All school systems must present their final re-opening plans to the state by August 14.
Superintendent Williams also expressed concern for students in a transitional year: kindergarten to elementary schools, elementary to middle school, and middle to high school.
“Here is my concern,” Williams said. “Kids are making a transition to new levels, kids who have been dis-engaged for a variety of reasons. There has got to be some kind of phased-in approach.
“I think at this point, based on my conversations with colleagues across Maryland, it will serve us better to lean to a more virtual return, to have some kind of phase-in. I think our young folks may need that.”