Plan for Sept. 8 opening will be decided in next board of ed session

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Of the three methods of instruction Worcester County Public Schools are considering for the 2020-21 school year, the hybrid learning model offers a rotating A Week/B Week schedule to bring back the maximum number of students.

(July 17, 2020) The Worcester County Board of Education on Tuesday agreed to keep its options open as it approaches the Sept. 8 beginning of the school year. A draft of its recovery plan, “Responsible Return,” explores three methods of instructional delivery.

According to the presentation by Dr. Dwayne Abt, Dr. Annette Wallace, Denise Shorts and Carrie Sterrs, the recovery model addresses five areas: operations and safety, instructional program, distance learning, communication and stakeholder feedback. 

Wallace, the chief operating and academic officer (grades 9-12), presented the three optional methods of instructional delivery for the year with the anticipation of continued public health restrictions. 

Ideally, educators would prefer to return to face-to-face learning with safety precautions made to the classroom and schedule.

Another option is hybrid learning, a combination of face-to-face learning and virtual learning through an A Week/B Week model schedule. 

The third option would be distance learning with opportunities for asynchronous and synchronous learning with teachers and students. Synchronous learning is when groups of students are taught at the same time in live sessions online. Asynchronous learning is when there’s no online interaction between students and teachers.

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Dr. Annette Wallace

 

“I am very hesitant to say that that would be the same as what we were doing in the spring, because if you remember in the spring it was continuity learning (a continuation of education in the event of a school closure),” Wallace said. 

“This would just be full-on distance learning. We would not be exercising compassionate grading. We would be back to a very similar attendance policy as we would have had if students were in school.” 

In distance learning, students must attend all scheduled synchronous learning sessions and complete all asynchronous work to be marked as present. 

Shorts, the chief academic officers (grades PK-8), said the distance learning plan will incorporate feedback from students and their families.

She added that the draft plan highlights special education considerations to determine if students’ needs are being met and whether they have experienced a regression of skills or lack of progress. 

The operations and safety section of the model demonstrates how the local school system is following the guidance of the CDC, the Maryland Department of Health, and the Worcester County Health Department for logistics about cleaning, PPE, and facility use. 

The school system also has assembled an athletic recovery team that meets weekly and has a draft recovery plan of its own.

Currently, the schools are operating at a low-risk factor with student athletes doing activities at their houses. 

 No indoor facility use is permitted at this time. 

The Aug. 12 start date for sports practice has not been changed, said Supervisor of Human Resources Abt.

As for facility usage, the Operations and Safety Subcommittee recommends the board prohibit the use of outside organizations at school facilities until the third phase of Gov. Larry Hogan’s recovery plan. 

Abt detailed multiple options for food service, including classroom delivery and classroom dining with prepackaged meals, cafeteria service with classroom dining or cafeteria service with cafeteria dining at the middle and high schools.

If schools return with virtual learning, a curbside service will be offered.

Operational protocols for transportation involve social distancing guidelines and the requirement of PPE.

School bus seating for summer school students is staggered, with a maximum of 12 students per bus.

“We can exceed 12 if we have family members in the same seat,” Abt said. 

Bus drivers are also receiving instructions about what cleaning products to use.

Safety protocols within schools include a list of proper disinfectants, instructions for frequency of cleaning high-touch surface areas, details on how and when to use PPE, screenings of staff and students, CDC guidelines for social distancing and signs to direct traffic patterns in schools.

Carrie Sterrs, the director of public relations and special programs, reported on the importance of communication for a safe return to school.

“What the communication subcommittee has done in a ‘Responsible Return’ model is to define the comprehensive communication plan that addresses the varying needs of each audience, utilizing the resources already at our disposal as well as developing some new channels,” Sterrs said. 

For internal communication among the system’s faculty and staff, email, automated notifications, social media, childcare resources, and a Responsible Return intranet will be utilized.

Students and their families can view the summer school webpage and the Responsible Return webpage on worcesterk12.org, the eNewsletters and social media posts for ongoing communication.

Sterrs added that special considerations will be taken for crisis communications, and that school status alerts will be developed to notify students and their families of any coronavirus-related closures.

The school system is also working to improve its translation services, she said. 

In addition, the school system is gathering opinions and information through surveys and focus groups. 

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Louis Taylor

 

“We plan to put a stakeholder group together that really encompasses our community,” said Superintendent Louis Taylor. “We will put a group together that has been identified already, and then we will also put this plan out on our website in the near future to garner feedback from our community as well.”

Taylor said he aims to present a final school-opening plan at the next board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 18. 

Shortly after the Worcester County Board of Education meeting, the Maryland State Education Association, Baltimore Teachers Union, and Maryland PTA held a teleconference via Zoom on Tuesday at 2 p.m. about the risks of returning for in-person instruction this upcoming school year. 

A joint letter addressed to the governor and State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon calls for Maryland schools to begin with virtual learning and instruction. After one semester, schools could transition into hybrid learning and possibly in-person learning later in the school year. 

“In the face of no additional funding at the federal, state, or local level — let alone threatened budget cuts — it is not realistic to believe that all schools will be equipped with additional and more expensive necessities to stay safe on a daily basis,” the letter states.

The Maryland State Education Association, Baltimore Teachers Union, and Maryland PTA urged state and county leaders to establish a safe and consistent model of learning.

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