The Baltimore County Schools now have a plan on how students from preschool to second grade will be brought back to the classroom.
But with COVID-19 rates worsening, it’s anyone’s guess when that will happen.
Two weeks ago, the school board directed school administrators to present a plan that would have those students back November 30. But with the number of COVID cases rising, the plan presented to the board Tuesday night moved a possible start date to December 14. And under the school system’s health guideline, that will only happen if COVID numbers improve over the previous two weeks.
Michael Zarchin, the Chief of School Climate and Safety, told the board Tuesday night that by this Friday, he plans to have a dashboard on the school system’s website that will track the COVID numbers.
“Every Friday that dashboard, the data will be posted. So it will be evident which way we’re trending through that data,” Zarchin said.
On Monday, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski warned residents that COVID-19 numbers in the county are rapidly worsening. He said that in the past two weeks, the rate of cases in the county increased by 90%. It went from 10.7 to 20.4 per 100,000 residents.
At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, school administrators laid out what it will take to get all students back in the classroom, once the COVID rate declines to an acceptable level.
Before students can be brought back, families will be sent questionnaires so the school system can find out which students are continuing 100% virtual instruction and which ones will be participating in a hybrid system. From there, the challenges range from new class schedules, to meals, to transportation.
Community Superintendent George Roberts said buses will get regular cleaning and there will be social distancing.
“Bus drivers and bus attendants will wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose. In addition, students will be required to wear a face mask.”
The plan calls for reentry to be done in four phases. Four schools for severely disabled student would be first. The second phase would be preschool through 2nd grade students. The third phase would be 3rd- 12th grade students who are in specialized programs in their home schools. The final phase would be the remaining 3rd-12th graders.
School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Causey proposed that once classes can safely resume, they should combine the first three phases so more students can get into classrooms quickly
“If the phasing in takes too long, student groups may miss, two, four or six weeks of that amazing in-person instruction that is really going to help our children recover from the losses that they’ve had.”
But Causey’s proposal was rejected by the school board.
“I don’t think I’m comfortable with bringing everybody in at the same time,” said board member Moalie Jose. “It’s more people and it spreads faster if it does go south pretty quickly on us.”
School Superintendent Darryl Williams said the phased-in approach was developed with guidance from the county health department.
“The concern has always been about large groups of students returning,” Williams said.
While not precluding the possibility some classes will resume this semester, the school board directed the administration to come up with a detailed plan on how hybrid learning will work during the second semester, if the COVID numbers improve enough to allow it. That plan is to be presented at a board meeting next month.