(Sept. 4, 2020) The State Board of Education is requiring school systems that did not develop plans to bring back students for in-classroom instruction until 2021 to reevaluate their reopening plans by the end of the first quarter.
“Last week, as a result of our dramatically improved health metrics, we announced that every county school system in Maryland was authorized to begin the process of safely reopening,” Gov. Larry Hogan said on Tuesday. “We made clear that the legal authority and the final decision-making on these safe openings rests with the county boards of education.”
Hogan said 16 of the 24 school systems in the state developed plans that involved students returning to campus in some capacity this fall.
“Eight counties did not submit any reopening plans that even attempted to bring any kids into any classrooms for the entire year,” the governor said.
On Aug. 27, Dr. Karen Salmon recommended the minimum number of hours of real-time, face-to-face during a press conference with the governor.
She suggested five days per week and six hours per day of student engagement, with three and a half hours of synchronous instruction daily during distance learning.
“After reviewing what had been submitted, we made a recommendation of what we thought would ensure an equitable program for all students across the state,” said Dr. Carol Williamson, the deputy state superintendent for teaching and learning in the Office of Teaching and Learning in the Maryland State Department of Education, during the Tuesday board meeting.
“The board asked if we would pause the discussion and that you would like to come back and devote a separate 90-minute meeting to that topic. You asked that we reflect on our recommendation and consider if it actually would be possible for school systems to transition to additional hours since their calendars were already set.”
Since the board meeting on Aug. 25, schools were reminded of the definitions of synchronous and asynchronous learning with examples, Williamson said.
Mary Gable, the assistant state superintendent in the Division of Student Support, Academic Enrichment and Educational Policy, shared those definitions with the board.
Synchronous learning is remote learning that happens in real time with the interaction between the teacher and students and occurs in a virtual classroom setting.
Synchronous learning can be with a targeted small group or the whole class.
Examples of synchronous learning are assessment and checking for understanding, office hours that include meeting with students, guided instruction and teacher-led group discussions.
Gable said asynchronous learning includes digital platform instruction, pre-recorded video lessons, resources, assigned readings, independent practice, paper/pencil learning activities, rotation/center activities and posted assignments.
Maryland school systems are required to be open 180 days each year and provide at least six hours of instruction daily.
All 24 school systems in the state presented student engagement projections for synchronous and asynchronous learning per day and week for all grade ranges.
During the review of the submitted recovery plans and additional requests for specific hours of synchronous and asynchronous instruction, Williamson said only a few schools met the mandated days and hours across all grade levels.
Gable presented the Maryland Code that states students must be in attendance for at least 180 actual school days and a minimum of 1,080 school hours during a 10-month period in each academic year.
The State Board of Education reviewed two recommendations.
Option A requires schools to be open for students at least 180 school days and to include at least a total of six hours of student engagement per day.
The first option also states, “a school day for each local system must include the recommended minim hours of synchronous instruction for each grade band per day, five days per week.” Half-day pre-kindergarten school days must consist of one and half hours of synchronous instruction per day, five days per week. The recommended minimum hours are to be implemented by Sept. 28.
Furthermore, any school systems that indicated in their submitted recovery plans that students will not return in-person until second semester should reevaluate their plans by the end of the first quarter.
“We ask that because we were hoping that as things get better out in our communities, that we’re going to be able to bring students back more quickly than we had perceived,” Williamson said.
Option B also requires schools to be open for students at least 180 school days and to include at least a total of six hours of student engagement per day.
In addition, schools must have an average of three and a half hours of synchronous instruction throughout the day.
Half-day pre-kindergarten school days must consist of one and a half hours of synchronous instruction throughout the half-day.
“[The Maryland State Department of Education] will collaborate with local school superintendents and provide technical assistance as they work to implement the minimum hours of synchronous instruction and work with local school systems, in collaboration with their local health departments, to consider strategies to return to in-person instruction by the end of the calendar year,” the second option states.
The main difference between the two options is the amount of time for school systems to develop their calendars with technical assistance provided by the Maryland State Department of Education.
“So, if they picked Option A, the amount of time would be until the end of September,” Salmon said. “Or, if the board picks Option B, they would have until the end of the calendar year.”
After long discussion, the State Board of Education voted to adopt Option B with clarification.
Schools are required to be open for at least 180 days and have an average of three and half hours of synchronous instruction for students in kindergarten through 12th grade of the minimum total of six hours of student engagement per day.
The option was amended with an element of Option A to include school systems that have indicated students will not return for in-person instruction until second semester should reevaluate their reopening plans by the end of the first quarter and submit them to the Maryland State Department of Education by the third week of November.
“I want to thank the State Board of Education for their vote … which calls on those counties to at least go back and reevaluate their modes of instruction before the end of the year,” Hogan said during his press conference on Tuesday.
He added that local jurisdictions have the flexibility to be more restrictive but are encouraged to reassess the guidelines for youth sports. The Maryland Department of Health issued an order on June 12, which allows youth sports to resume.
For more information, visit marylandpublicschools.org.