Public system will follow  ‘Responsible Return’ plan with four-stage protocol

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(July 31, 2020) The Worcester County Public School system will begin its year with distance learning, or Stage One, of its “Responsible Return” model, Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor announced at a Thursday afternoon press conference at the board of education offices in Newark.

“We recognize the significant challenges that distance learning poses for many of our students’ academic and social emotional development, which is why we intend to re-evaluate conditions every two weeks,” he said. “As those conditions allow, we hope to move into Stage Two by Monday, Sept. 28, which will welcome back into our buildings small groups of identified students for face-to-face instruction.”

In what appeared to be a show of support for the decision, also present at the conference were board of education members, the county commissioners, representatives of the county health department, the Worcester County Teachers Association and the Worcester County Educational Support Personnel Association.

Taylor thanked these organizations for their partnership and guidance in the “Responsible Return” model and the decision to return to school on Sept. 8 with virtual instruction. 

The school system also received feedback from more than 2,200 people about the four-stage “Responsible Return” model in one day through surveys, according to a Facebook post.

The model calls for — Stage One: distance learning; Stage Two: hybrid learning with a tiered support model; Stage Three: hybrid learning with an alternating week model and Stage Four: face-to-face learning. 

In the second stage, students who require school-based Tier 2 and Tier 3 support will be targeted to receive face-to-face instruction.

Currently, the schools have been bringing small groups of students to the classrooms for summer academy programs. Stage Two will build on this structure. In compliance with Gov. Larry Hogan’s orders, there will be a 15-person limited occupancy in each room. 

The school system hopes to begin the second stage in early or mid-September. 

Stage Three will aim to bring back as many students as possible to in-person instruction on an alternating weekly schedule. 

When in the classroom, according to the model, students should have assigned seating, and schools should develop plans to enforce social distancing guidelines. 

Lastly, Stage Four would involve all students returning to in-person instruction with new safety requirements. 

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Lou Taylor

“We have received an enormous amount of input from our families, faculty, and staff,” Taylor said, referring to the thousands of survey responses, emails and messages school officials have received over the last several weeks. “I am confident that today’s decision is the right one for our community.”

Taylor also announced that families could choose to keep their children in distance learning when students are able to return to the classroom.

“We recognize the fear that many families have at this tenuous time, so to ease those fears, Worcester County Public Schools will continue to offer a choice of distance learning for any families that do not wish to physically send their child back to school,” Taylor said. “Parents will be able to exercise this option as schools reach out to invite their child back to the classroom.”

The decision to go slow places Worcester’s public schools in line with more than 75 percent of the state’s 24 school districts, which will begin the year with online learning.  That list includes Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Carroll, Prince George’s, Somerset, Dorchester, and Wicomico counties.

Local school districts have until Aug. 14 to submit their 2020 reopening plans to the state.

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