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Virtual Learning Likely For Baltimore County Schools This Fall

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John Lee
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Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams said Tuesday night that he is leaning towards not reopening school buildings in September. Instead, county students would pick up where they left off in the spring, with virtual learning from home.

The Baltimore County School Board Tuesday night heard from Williams and other members of his staff about what the next school year will look like.

WYPR’s John Lee monitored the meeting and discussed what happened with Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner.

Sterner: Why does Superintendent Williams say he is leaning towards a virtual opening of school?

Lee: Here is what he had to say about that.

Williams: “I want to make it clear that the safety of our students and staff remain the top priority.”

Lee: The school board was presented with three possible options for the start of the school year. One is all students and staff back as normal. The second is a hybrid approach of virtual learning and in class instruction. Both of those options would require a long list of safety measures that would need to be put in place, including social distancing in school and on buses, temperature checks, deep cleaning of schools and isolation of sick students and staff members.

And then there is the third option, 100% distance learning. Williams said he is leaning towards that. Board member Lisa Mack pressed Williams on when he will make a final decision, saying she’s been hearing from parents who need to know so they can make plans.

Mack: “As far as babysitting, as far as their jobs. People are asking questions like what is the remote learning going to look like? How many hours? Will there be graded assignments? Is attendance going to be required?”

Lee: Williams said he should have a decision by the end of the month.

Sterner: The virtual learning that happened in the spring was rushed into place in an emergency. Will it look different this time around?

Lee: School officials say it will. They are promising it will be more rigorous and more scheduled. They are considering setting up a bell schedule to give it more of a feel of a school day. They are looking at providing more live instruction between teachers and students.

Board member Cheryl Pasteur, who is a retired principal, said students need real instruction. And for that to happen, Pasteur says teachers need training.

Pasteur: “They’re going to really have to know how to develop lessons that they can use that will reach the children over a screen. They will have to know how to take their children into breakout sessions.”

Lee: School officials believe having more live instruction will help students who struggled with virtual learning in the spring, particularly elementary school students.

Sterner: How about those students who did not engage in virtual learning at all in the spring? Does the Baltimore County school system have plans for them?

Lee: They do. The board was told last night that about 6% of the county’s elementary school students did not participate in virtual learning in the spring. For middle and high schoolers, it was around 5%.

In August, the county is planning to provide an in-school program for those students. They are still figuring out what that program will look like.

Also, if Williams does go with 100% virtual learning in the fall as he says he is leaning, then somewhere down the road they would consider phasing in students into school, perhaps focusing on students who struggle most with distance learning, or those students in the critical transition years of kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades.

And, Nathan, Williams points that that what he is considering is contrary to the phase of reopening the state currently is in.

That would allow a mix of in class and distance instruction. But Williams says the data he is seeing has him leaning towards a 100% virtual return for Baltimore County schools this fall.

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