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City School Administrators Release Return Plan

The Baltimore City Public Schools District office on North Avenue. On Wednesday, administrators touted their return plan at an informational session for parents.

Baltimore City Schools officials touted a plan to return students to classrooms Wednesday night, that includes an indoor mask mandate, regular testing for COVID-19 and plans to host vaccination clinics at schools.

The city schools’ recovery plan, developed from input by students, families and teachers, aims to reconnect, restore and reimagine school services, Chief of Schools John Davis said at an information session for families.

“We want our school year to start in such a strong and productive way,” Davis said. “We have adjusted appropriately, no matter if it's around facility improvements or how we space our students or how the day is going to ensue. I have a lot of confidence based on everything that's happened in the last 16, 17 months.”

Kindergarteners throughout the U.S. entered the 2020-2021 school year 6% less likely to be on track for reading skills compared to the previous school year, according to a study by the national curriculum provider Amplify. That number grew to 18% at the mid-year point.

City schools followed the national pattern. Just over half of BCPS students finished the 2019-2020 school year performing at or above their grade levels; that number fell to 38% at the end of the 2020-2021 school year, according to the plan.

A portion of the plan focuses on getting students back on track. Teachers will prioritize skills that bolster grade level standards, such as critical reading, and adjust curriculums to focus on those skills.

“We want to help our kids catch up quickly. We know that there are gaps in their learning...as we prepare for their return, we are ready to make decisions about what is most important and give the support that students need to hit on grade level learning,” Chief Academic Officer Joan Dabrowksi said. “We’re trying to make this a moment where we look forward and help kids get what they need from tutoring” rather than from remediation classes.

She said the system is thinking through how to provide virtual lessons for quarantined students.

“It’s really complex. We want to prevent students from falling behind,” she said. “We’ll work to make sure they stay engaged while learning independently.”

A panel of public health experts and medical professionals from Morgan State University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland Health Systems and the Baltimore City Health Department helped school administrators develop standards to mitigate pandemic risks. They include mandatory quarantine for staff and students who have tested positive for COVID-19, improvements to the HVAC systems and physical distancing in classrooms.

BCPS Chief Operations Officer Lynette Washington said custodians will follow a careful checklist to keep bathrooms stocked with soap and hand sanitizer.

“They will be frequently monitoring bathrooms to ensure that this happens,” Washington said.

Baltimore Teachers Union leaders spelled out their concerns at a hearing Wednesday before the General Assemby’s House Appropriations & Ways and Means committees.

BTU president Diamonté Brown told lawmakers that administrators should do building walkthroughs with staff to ensure that air purifiers are working properly and that soap and hand sanitizer needs are met.

“I don't think it's a secret that Baltimore City public schools have some of the worst school buildings in the state of Maryland, maybe in the nation,” Brown said.

She said that administrators should engage both teachers and families more rigorously, by reopening sessions that invite both students, parents and school staff. Many BCPS updates are shared via the system’s website and email listservs; Brown said that administrators should distribute flyers in communities that struggle with internet accessibility.

“Stakeholders have questions that go unanswered, because they didn't have the opportunity to even bring it up,” she said, adding that the system’s current method of procuring feedback has put different groups in silos.

System administrators should also prioritize the mental health of staff and students, Brown said, suggesting that district office staff collaborate with clinicians and student wholeness specialists to foster environments that respond to specific social needs.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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