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Schools Prepare For Possible Long-Term Shutdown

John Lee

Schools across Maryland were to be closed this week and next to slow the spread of coronavirus. Now, system administrators are preparing for the real possibility they might be closed even longer. 

Teachers and administrators statewide will face a myriad of challenges if schools do not reopen.

For starters, Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams said they need to make sure seniors would be able to finish the course work they need to graduate.

“How do we make sure they get the number of credits they need to graduate and get a diploma after all is said and done?” Williams said.

Also, 13 percent of the county’s 115,000 students receive special education services. If the schools close for the rest of the semester, how do you provide those students accommodations that are required by law?

Another challenge is how do you teach those students who are learning English?

Williams said the school system finds itself in a unique situation.

“What alternatives can we provide or what can we request from the state to ease some of the requirements," he asked.

And then there is the question of how do you teach all students who are hunkered down at home? A big part of that will be on line. Since the county schools several years ago invested in laptops for every middle and high schooler, they will have the ability to get instruction. That is not the case for county elementary school students. Williams  said they may need to think creatively.

“Since we don’t have laptops for every elementary, we may have to get some,” Williams said. “We have to go ahead and get additional resources.”

Williams said they also may turn to BCPS TV, the schools’ cable channel, to send instruction to students.

Cindy Sexton, president of Teachers Association of Baltimore County,  said Anne Arundel County is already doing that.

“With all day long math lessons, changing the grade level every half hour one day and then the next day would be the same with ELA, the English language arts, changing the grade level every half hour,” Sexton said.

So the content is there, but Sexton said students have to watch.

Another idea is getting packets of school work into the hands of students.

“But that was all still in the development stages before we got shut down,” Sexton said.

Whatever happens, Sexton said it will be a whole new experience for everyone. And it’s going to take all of us to make it work.

Meantime, meals for students are being offered at several dozen sites throughout Baltimore County. This takes the place of meals that had been offered at school. Williams said Wednesday they started providing three meals to each child. It’s a grab and go setup and a parent has to be there.

“I watched a family pull up their car, greeted our food and nutrition staff, grab their food with their kids in the car and kept on going,” Williams said. “It’s almost like a drive thru.”

Williams said they have enough food to meet the demand, but he expects that demand will increase as time goes on.

Williams said for now what is important is for everyone to take care of themselves and their loved ones.

“This is not a snow day,” Williams said. “This is a time in which folks need to tend to their health and to be safe and we’ll work out the logistics when it comes to education. Just want everybody to be safe out there.”

Williams said keep checking the county schools’ website for updates on what lies ahead.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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