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Baltimore County Council Leans On BCPS To Provide Summer School For Failing Students

Lauren Watley, Baltimore County Government
The Baltimore County Council

The Baltimore County Council is putting heat on the school system to provide in-person summer school for any student who is failing following a year of virtual learning. School officials are making plans for in-person learning this summer, but council members say it isn’t enough to meet the need.

The seven council members sent a letter to School Superintendent Darryl Williams and School Board Chair Makeda Scott Thursday that calls for a rigorous, daily in-person summer school for students who need it. Council members said they are hearing from parents and guardians who are telling them there is a considerable number of students who have not been able to learn well virtually.

Republican Councilman David Marks said he is seeing that first-hand because he is a public school teacher in another jurisdiction.

“I’ve seen grades for a lot of these students and it’s very clear that the pandemic has created real struggles for many students,” Marks said.

Heather Dougherty has two children in the Baltimore County Public Schools. Her 9th grader is doing fine.

“And is probably the virtual learning model student of 2021,” Dougherty said.

But her 7th grader, who goes to Catonsville Middle School, used to be a solid B student. Now she is making Ds and Es.

“And an E is what in our old person vernacular would be an F.”

Dougherty said her daughter needs hands-on learning. She would like her to have a chance to make up what she’s lost in summer school.

“I don’t want this to continue on for her,” Dougherty said. “How can we turn this around? How could she feel accomplished and secure in her academic performance so that she belongs and that this is for her.”

Council members said the school system should consider paying for summer school with the money it receives from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act.

Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk initiated the letter and got his fellow council members to sign on. The letter also asks the school system to give the council data on how many students are passing and failing. Quirk said the council should get that information because it approves the money the school system receives from the county. This year that came to $1.86 billion.

“We are accountable to the citizens of Baltimore County,” Quirk said. “And there are plenty of parents that are paying taxes into the system that deserve answers.”

WYPR requested the data showing how many students are passing and failing. A school spokesman responded in an email that they “don’t have that data at the ready and would need additional time to request and amass that data.”

The Maryland State Department of Education releaseddatathis week that breaks down how many county students failed various subjects during the second term, which ran from November 16 to January 29.

For instance, more than 5,000 middle school students failed math. That compares to around 2,800 who flunked math during the second term one year ago. The numbers of county students failing in the second term were up in all subjects in elementary and middle schools. But they declined in high school.

The county council wants details on summer school and pass-fail data from school officials by April 16.

“The transparency from a huge school system has been very disappointing to say the least,” Councilman Quirk said.

The school system’s Chief Academic Officer Mary Boswell- McComas said they are planning for in-person summer school for 12,000 students.

“What I’m hearing many people want of course is an opportunity to fix or undo the last 12 months,” McComas said. “That’s just going to take time for all of us.”

The summer school will be for a variety of students, such as new kindergarteners, those who need special education services, as well as children who are failing.

McComas said there will be about 2,000 in-person slots for middle and high school students. Councilman Quirk said that is a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

McComas said another 2,000 students can take classes online.

“So that those families who are virtual and are not yet comfortable to send their child in person, that they too still have summer support and learning,” McComas said.

The school system began bringing students back into classrooms earlier this month. Data from the system shows that the parents of about half of the students who first had the option to have their children in classes two days a week, opted instead to keep them learning virtually full time.

McComas said there will be tutors and additional summer programs offered at individual schools. She said parents who are interested should contact their child’s principal.

“Every school has resources where they can develop their own school-based program,” McComas said.

She added that their in-person plan for the summer is based on the original six feet social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. On Thursday, the state adopted new CDC guidelines that students should maintain a distance of at least three feet in classroom settings.

“We’ve been working on this for quite some time now,” McComas said. “As everything continues to evolve and update this year we continue to evolve and update.”

Cindy Sexton, the president of TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she expects some educators will be willing to work this summer.

“I have a little more concern this year because everybody is just so overwhelmed and exhausted from what our school year has been, but alternately there are always people who want/need that extra money,” Sexton said.

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