Baltimore County school board to vote on reopening plan during special meeting Tuesday

The Baltimore County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on its reopening plan for the 2020-21 academic year Tuesday evening and is expected to approve a virtual return to the classrooms.

Last week, Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Darryl L. Williams said during a virtual school board meeting that he supported keeping remote learning in place for the start of the school year amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing the safety of students and faculty.

The meeting will stream at 5:05 p.m. and can be viewed online at BCPS TV.

The Baltimore County teachers union and four other unions representing county school system employees said they do not want to return to school buildings until they feel it’s safe. Several school board members also have voiced their support for the remote learning option.

The Maryland State Education Association, Baltimore Teachers Union and the Maryland Parent Teacher Association called on state officials last week to start the academic year in an online-only setting.

Williams envisions initially starting the school year remotely, and phasing in a physical return to school buildings, predicated on regional conditions as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

If Maryland and Baltimore County return to Phase 1 of reopening due to an increase in positive cases, the school system would continue remote learning.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has not expressed an opinion about how public schools should look in the fall, but said that he and state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon would hold a news conference this week with more guidance.

“We all want our children to get back to school as soon as possible, but only if and when we can do it in a way that keeps our students and teachers safe,” said the Republican governor, adding that “we cannot and should not rush” the decision on schools.

County school officials are considering a more structured approach mimicking a typical bell schedule, which could improve students’ academic performance, said Renard Adams, the school system’s senior executive director of curriculum operations, at the virtual meeting last week.

Two other options are on the table; reopening school at around 30% capacity with staggered class schedules, or reopening schools at 100% capacity if the state and county enter Phase 3 of Hogan’s coronavirus recovery plan.

The county and state are currently in Phase 2.

Baltimore and Carroll counties are the only Baltimore-area school jurisdictions that have yet to make a decision on reopening. Harford, Howard, Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore City have all opted for a virtual return in the fall.

School systems must submit reopening plans to the Maryland State Department of Education by Aug. 14.

Baltimore County health officials on Monday joined health officers from Baltimore City and the counties of Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s in submitting a letter asking the state health department to bring back more restrictive measures to curb disease spread as confirmed cases among young people and hospitalizations have trended upward.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is expected to announce “a new public health effort” at a 1 p.m. press conference, according to a news release.

Maryland’s seven-day average positivity rate was lower than 5% on July 21 for the 26th consecutive day. The World Heath Organization’s benchmark for easing restrictions is an average positivity rate lower than 5% during a two-week span.

Health experts, including from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, are increasingly recommending students return to in-person classes, with social distancing measures in place, saying the risk of hunger or child abuse outweighs the risk of children contracting COVID-19, from which they are less likely to develop complications than are adults.


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