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State Education Board Passes Virtual Learning Plan

Krissy Venosdale // Flickr Creative Commons

The Maryland State Board of Education Tuesday approved a plan that sets the minimum number of hours students must receive live, online instruction from teachers.

The board backed off a proposal to put those requirements in place later this month, after critics said that was too soon, and would have caused confusion and chaos.

The state education board decided that school systems have to have an average of 3.5 hours of daily, live virtual instruction, called synchronous learning. They have to achieve that requirement by the end of the calendar year.

Each local school system has already submitted its own virtual learning plan to the state.

State Superintendent Karen Salmon said she heard from parents who didn’t think their children were going to get enough live instruction.

“We were just concerned about the equity across the state and feeling that a standard was needed,” Salmon said.

A plan that wasn’t made public until last weekend would have required local school systems to meet minimum live online learning standards by Sept. 28. That looming deadline led to a firestorm of criticism on social media and an online petition opposing it with more than 20,000 signatures.

Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association, said that September deadline would have caused chaos for school systems that would have had to rework their schedules just as virtual instruction is getting under way.

Bost said the board heard the complaints and did the right thing pushing back the minimum live online requirements to December.

“We’re happy this is allowing districts and educators to all come together and learn from how the school year is starting and make some adjustments and not be forced into this in 20 days,” Bost said.

At one point, the state board considered delaying for several weeks taking action on the minimum requirements. Board member Rachel McCusker said she was seeing the reworked plan for the first time today and that the public has not had the chance to weigh in.

“As a matter of process, this is something that I find unacceptable,” McCusker said.

Salmon told the board the plan was based on feedback they have been receiving.

Board Vice President Jean Halle said this is an emergency. Halle said local school systems need guidance.

“We want to continue to march forward to improve the situation in terms of equity and instruction, and I think this is guidance to do so,” Halle said.

Bost said she supports the board’s action, but added it should have happened months ago.

“This all could have been put in place in June and it wouldn’t have created this confusion and chaos right now,” Bost said.

As for the 3.5 hours of daily live instruction, the local school systems appear to have some wiggle room. That is an average for a school system, so it could decide to give younger students a little less and older students a little more. Details are to come.

School officials also clarified what exactly qualifies to meet 3.5 hours. Assistant State Superintendent Mary Gable told the board it’s more than just a teacher leading a class; it’s anything happening live that is facilitated by a teacher.

Gable said, “Collaborative groups, assessment, office hours, etc.”

Officials said that clarity will help school systems hit the 3.5 hour requirement.

School Board chairman Clarence Crawford said that during the COVID pandemic, there will be a host of issues educators will have to tackle.

“In some of this, we are writing the book as we go,” Crawford told the board. “There is no guide. There is no perfect guide. We’re trying to figure this out and we’re trying to do this in a way that’s inclusive, that engages.”

The state education board also decided Tuesday that any school system that is not planning to return students to classrooms until the second semester, should reevaluate, then submit their reopening plans by the third week in November.

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