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Baltimore County School System Sees 3% Of Its Students Sign Up For Fall Virtual Learning


Parents of nearly 3,500 Baltimore County students are choosing to opt out of the in-person daily instruction the school system will offer this fall and instead keep their children learning from home.

The county has joined school systems across the state making plans to allow some students to learn online this school year.

Emily Mullinix signed up her two children for Baltimore County’s virtual learning program. She is keeping her 7th grader home because online learning works better for her. She struggles with speaking, so she’s had success with the chat function in Google Meets. And she wants to stay home.

Mullinix’s sixth grader is a tougher call, however, because he wants to go back to school.

“All of his friends are going in person,” Mullinix said.

So, she may change her mind and let him go to school, but she’s nervous about it.

“I’m concerned because he’s not old enough to be vaccinated yet and there are these variants going around,” she said.

The county’s chief academic officer, Mary Boswell-McComas, said she expects the number of students enrolled in virtual learning to drop. She said some parents who initially signed up their children for it are changing their minds.

“We have noticed the most drop in enrollment at the middle school and I think it’s exactly because the vaccine is now available for children down to 12 years old,” McComas said.

Around 3% of Baltimore County’s 111,000 students are registered for the online option, including about 1,000 middle school and nearly 1,200 high school students. Boswell-McComas said the most sign-ups—1,270 students--are at the elementary level.

“I think this number to me seems very reflective of the fact that there is not a vaccine at the elementary level that’s available yet.”

That could change during the school year. Pfizer is shooting to get emergency authorization this fall for a COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

Other school systems across the state are making virtual plans as well. For example, Baltimore City and Frederick County plan K-12 virtual learning. Howard County is limiting it to 6th grade and younger. Carroll County canceled its virtual learning program because not enough students signed up.

In Baltimore County, teachers are being hired specifically for online instruction. Unlike the previous school year, teachers will not simultaneously have students at home and in the classroom.

Cindy Sexton, president of TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she expects the county will have enough teachers to staff the virtual program.

“So those teachers who really excelled at it and had a way to reach their students and have their students excel are excited about the opportunity,” Sexton said.

Virtual learning is a general education curriculum. Not all classes will be offered online. In Baltimore County, that includes classes specifically for special education students. They generally need more intensive, face-to-face services, according to Kathrine Pierandozzi, the executive director of special education for the county schools.

“They would not make progress through this virtual learning program that BCPS is offering,” she said.

Pierandozzi said some special education students who need fewer services could learn virtually this fall. She said that needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Leslie Margolis, the managing attorney for Disability Rights Maryland, said the parent of a special education student needs to consider whether the child can successfully attend virtual school.

“Knowing that the virtual school may not be able to provide all of the services their child would receive in person,” Margolis said.

She said she’s not sure the school system has thought through what it should provide disabled students who may not be able to return to classrooms.

Baltimore County’s virtual learning program is not for keeps.

Chief Academic Officer Boswell-McComas said it will end after this coming school year. She sees it as one-year final surge response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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