HOWARD COUNTY, MD — The start of the 2020-2021 academic year will be delayed from Aug. 25 to Sept. 8, the day following Labor Day. The first staff day will be Aug. 25, the Howard County Board of Education voted Thursday night .
Scott Ruehl, director of leadership development for the school system, explained during the meeting that the delay in starting school allows for parents to learn more about the teaching methods to be used this fall and for staff members to better prepare. The delay means the last day of school will be June 15 unless there are snow days tacked on to the end of the calendar year.
The board met for six hours discussing a variety of subjects, primarily how school will look this fall during the coronavirus pandemic. Maryland schools have until Aug. 14 to submit plans to the Maryland State Department of Education for returning to school.
Superintendent Michael J. Martirano said this summer that the internal planning team had been working on the various aspects to prepare to return to school in the fall. Teaching and learning processes, student supports, transportation and other operational considerations were addressed in tentative plans. Parents and staff members completed surveys to help guide the district. There are 13 non-negotiable requirements set out by the state and plans have to be worked around those. They include college and career readiness requirements, individualized education program protocols, attendance tracking and safety protocols.
“We realize that much may change by the time school reopens in the fall and we are preparing for an array of possibilities that will be progressively refined as the situation evolves,” Martirano said. “The primary consideration for our planning continues to be the health and safety of our students and staff. Equity is a critical priority as we seek to serve the needs of all students, including those who are most vulnerable. Ultimately, all plans will reflect the needs and priorities of our students, staff, and parents and guardians.”
Three options had been tentatively outlined for the 2020-2021 school year before the meeting. The first option would be for all students to return to the classroom as normal, but Martirano said that was not necessarily feasible. The second option would be an all-online model that would use the 20,000 Chromebooks the district bought in March. The district would have more virtual face-time between teachers and students.
“If we’re leading with science and safety first, we need to make certain that the one secure model we have is a completely virtual [one],” Martirano said.
The third option would be a hybrid model blending in-person classes and online learning. It could implement an A-day/B day schedule at the lower grade levels and a semester-based model for the upper levels with four classes in each semester. If students have health conditions or other concerns, he or she could opt to distance learn.
The report discussed at Thursday’s night meeting featured two options. The school year would begin with a fully online system, then transition to a hybrid model and eventually return to everyone in the classroom if possible. If the hybrid model were chosen, students and staff would wear masks and socially distance. The second option would be a fully digital opt-in model for students and staff called the Digital Education Center.
But by the end of the meeting, Martirano the school system would be “pulling off” the fully digital option. Board members also questioned the functionality of such a system and potential problems it could generate.
During the meeting, the board did approve a semester-based model with four classes in each semester for middle and high school students. The board also approved purchasing an additional 6,500 Chromebooks for $2.5 million.
Martirano noted that everything discussed and worked out at the meeting could change by the start of school depending upon how the pandemic evolves.
This article originally appeared on the Columbia Patch