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BCPS Makes Plans For Fall Instruction And To Reach Students Not Online

Baltimore County Public Schools

Over the next few weeks, the Baltimore County Public Schools will be putting in place plans for fall classes.

At the same time, school officials are planning for face-to-face classes in August for those students who failed to switch to online learning when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools.

Lansdowne High School Principal Ken Miller said about a half dozen of his students were not logging on because their parent or guardian had died from COVID-19. Others had to take care of siblings or had to work because their parents had lost their jobs.

“I had a student who had a fire at their house,” Miller said. “So life was still happening, unfortunately.”

In other cases, students did not have the technology they needed to get online.

Around 3,500 of Baltimore County’s 115,000 students never got online after distance learning began in March, according to Chief Academic Officer Mary Boswell-McComas.

“We all feel that worry about where have they been?” McComas said. “Are they ok? What’s going on? What can we do?”

Miller and his fellow principals are reaching out to those students.

“It was either through our guidance, or even through department chairs that we were able to reach students and just figure out what was going on,” Miller said. “I never had a student that just vanished on us.”

McComas said they want to offer an in-class program in August for the students who did not participate in online learning. This will be the first time students will be in classrooms in a Baltimore County school building since mid-March. Traditional summer school is being taught online.

“An in-person opportunity would follow all of the health guidelines, small group size, social distance within the classroom,” McComas said.

There are a lot of logistics still to work out, like bus routes and which schools to use. And they need to hire teachers.

McComas said there will be more going on than academics.  They will be assessing what social services families might need.

“Because we know when you support the family you support the child,” McComas said.  “And so it’s really about that custom work that needs to happen more than ever.”

She says she sees this as onramp to the coming school year for these students. But exactly where that onramp is headed is still anyone’s guess.

There are three possibilities when fall classes begin September 8.

One hundred percent virtual learning could continue.

There could be a hybrid of in-school and online learning. In this case, students might be rotated in to keep numbers down for social distancing. Examples of what that might look like include students rotating into school weekly or every other day.

The third possibility is the state will allow all students and teachers to be back in classrooms for the school day, but perhaps require everyone to wear a mask.

The school system is taking steps for the possible return of students.

For instance, Debbie Somerville, the coordinator of health services, said each school is required by the state to have an isolation room "for a child who develops signs of illness during the school day."

At this week’s school board meeting, George Sarris, executive director of the county schools’ division of business services, said they are spending around $2 million they will receive from the CARES Act to get buildings ready. The CARES Act is the $2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package passed by Congress in March.

Sarris said the money will pay for things like expanding school health suites, establishing handwashing stations and putting up signs to promote social distancing. They plan to spend millions more from the CARES Act on things like new computers for students and developing a curriculum that can be used both online and in person.

Sarris told the board the CARES Act money is not in hand yet.

Board member Lisa Mack asked if there was any chance the county would not get it.

“Very little I would think,” Sarris said. “Very, very little.”

To which Mack replied, “That’s a very good answer.”

McComas said they hope to have a plan for the start of school in place in time for the school board’s July 14 meeting. McComas said they know families are anxious, but as of now, as it is with so much of COVID-19, there are no precise answers.

“We all need to be flexible, McComas said. “We need to be ready to pivot on a moment’s notice just like we had to do back in March.”

BCPS has an online survey for people to give feedback to school officials to help them prepare for the coming academic year.

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