Baltimore City Public Schools officials are grappling with how to educate the district’s nearly 80,000 students while the novel coronavirus outbreak keeps them out of the classroom at least through April 24.
Schools have already been closed for nearly two weeks. During that time, students’ schooling has come primarily in the form of work packets. In a call with reporters on Thursday, Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said those work packets will continue to be distributed every Monday while schools are closed.
Beginning April 6, students will be able to access daily reading and math lessons and some science on public access television channels and online.
But Santelises acknowledged a major hurdle: many families with children in the Baltimore City Public Schools don’t have access to a computer or to the internet.
The school system has about 15,000 Chromebooks. Santelises said the schools plan to distribute these as needed, prioritizing high school juniors and seniors, as well as homeless students and students with disabilities.
To help determine the need for these computers, school officials will be surveying families beginning Friday.
“This is clearly not ideal, but our academics team is making all activities phone accessible,” Santelises said. “And this is also why we are committed to paper packets for families who do not have access to devices.”
She said staff are trying to come up with creative solutions for families who don’t have internet access at home while schools and also public libraries are closed.
“For example, the Pratt Library system is thinking about running vans to create additional mobile hotspots for families,” Santelises said.
As for whether students will continue to get grades, Santelises said school officials are still working out what to do. But she promised that students won’t be penalized for the less-than-ideal learning environment and a situation that is out of their control.
This, she said, is “a new paradigm.”
“It's a challenge for our students and our families. We are dramatically changing the way we deliver instruction in real time,” Santelises said.
She also acknowledged that the schools’ plan leans heavily on parents.
During Thursday’s call, she offered parents some advice.
“The most important thing is that our young people feel the connections of people who care for them and are invested in them,” she said, explaining that that could mean making sure children talk with their parents about a story they read or making them feel comfortable trying out a math problem.
The second piece of advice: “If you have to emphasize something, emphasize reading, and that's for all grade levels, and emphasize making sure that you have some exposure to math.”
Beginning April 6, there will be a hotline parents can call for academic or social and emotional support. For now, there’s a hotline families can call for information related to COVID-19: 443-984-2000.
The school system will also continue to provide meals for students at 18 school campuses across the city. Students can pick up their meals between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.