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Baltimore County School Board Hears What's Coming With Virtual Learning

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Baltimore County Public Schools
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Baltimore County students will be doing distance learning through at least the first semester. Tuesday night the Baltimore County School Board got into the nitty gritty of what that’s going to look like. Everything from attendance, to class schedules, to conduct, to sports got an airing out.

WYPR’s John Lee listened in on the meeting and joined Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner to talk about it.

Sterner: What were the issues school board members were most concerned about?

Lee: You heard a lot of concern about how those students who cannot connect to the internet are going to be able to participate in distance learning. The answer is they will be given hotspots. And for those students who live in rural Baltimore County and can’t access the internet even with a hotspot, there will be broadband offered in the parking lots of some of the schools.

Board member Lily Rowe wanted to know if school resource officers would monitor those parking lots to keep students safe.

Rowe: “Because sitting in a parking lot in your car is not necessarily something that is considered the safest thing in the world to do.”

Lee: School Superintendent Darryl Williams agreed with Rowe that they would have to develop a safety plan for those school parking lots.

School board members wanted to know how attendance was going to be taken. There is concern about students checking in then checking out of virtual learning or not showing up at all. The answer is elementary school attendance will be taken at the start of each school day. Attendance of middle and high school students will be taken throughout the day.

Sterner: Taking attendance is something that happens in a normal school day even though this coming school year will be anything but that. What other ways will they try to create a regular school day?

Lee: That lack of structure in the school day was one of the major criticisms of the Spring online learning, when school systems across Maryland had to close quickly as the COVID pandemic worsened.

So there will be a bell schedule. Normal grading will return. Board member Makeda Scott wanted to know about a dress code or code of conduct during virtual learning. The answer she got back from the administration is they’re working on it.

Board member Cheryl Pasteur, who is a retired principal, said fall instruction will be the real deal.

Pasteur: “What we’re about to begin is real school. This is not in any way, shape or form reflective of what was done during the Spring.”

Lee: Principals will have the autonomy to decide what school schedules will look like. For instance, does a high school have four periods or seven periods a day. Also there is a little wiggle room when it comes to start time. Classes can start no earlier than 8 a.m. Students and their families can expect to start seeing their school schedules next week.

These issues of how to pull off virtual learning are not unique to Baltimore County. Baltimore City, as well as Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel, Frederick and other counties have made the decision to start the school year distance learning.

Sterner: What is the plan for students who play sports?

Lee: All competition has been canceled for the fall. Virtual coaching and conditioning will be offered. And if students are back in school in January there are three mini-competitve seasons planned through June.

But Superintendent Williams reminded everyone that there are no guarantees that will happen.

Williams: “We don’t know what this year may look like. We may end up continuing this virtual based on the pandemic or we may be able to go back into a building.”

And Nathan, one of the most difficult parts of virtual learning is how to meet the needs of special education students. Chief Academic Officer Mary Boswell-McComas said parents of a student with disabilities need to contact their school about setting up a meeting to go over their child’s education plan.

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