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By: David M. Higgins II, Publisher

Annapolis, MD- On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Dr. Karen Salmon, Maryland Department of Education Superintendent canceled Maryland schools for the rest of the 2019/21.

The first school closing came on March 12, 2020, when she announced the initial closure of schools from March 16-March 27, 2020, the cancellation of all travel for students and staff, and a cleaning process for all school buildings. Then on March 26, she announced the extension of school closures until April 24, and the indefinite closure of child care facilities not serving essential personnel. Finally, on April 17, school closures were extended until May 15.

We end up on May 6, with Maryland schools closed, graduations going virtual, parents homeschooling for the last month of the school. Governor Larry Hogan hinted that if the numbers continued to decline, Maryland could enter Phase 1 of the “Roadmap to Recovery” next week.

The school system had now come out with their own Recovery Plan and it takes into consideration that schools may not be in the position to be “normal” in the Fall of 2020. The roadmap does note that it is up to each jurisdiction to determine how they proceed within the State’s required educational guidelines.

The main theme presented is for the restructuring of school time. This being taking the same number of days and minutes in the school year reallocating them into groups of students in-school and online learning.

School systems might elect to bring back a fraction of the students and redistribute the 180 days of the 2020-2021 school year. School systems might also “double-up” on in-person time with “A/B” days, as high schools do with block scheduling. (Research on year-round schooling and block scheduling, which are approximations for these approaches, finds no impact for the average student in most subjects. For example, normally students might receive 60 minutes of both math and English Language Arts (ELA) in person, each day. Under a partial reopen, if students learned math in person every other day for 120 minutes, and ELA at home on the opposite days for 120 minutes, there would be no “slide” anticipated in math because students were only getting in-person instruction every other day.)

Research has consistently found fully online virtual schools to produce less effective outcomes than those for students who are in brick and mortar school settings. According to limited research on synchronous distance learning (mostly conducted on college students), if instruction must be online students prefer synchronous learning both for greater understanding, comprehension and for social and collaborative reasons (both between student and teacher and among students). Systems may, therefore, consider avoiding fully online education and integrating synchronous learning and communication where possible when online learning occurs.

Research, including an NWEA simulation, indicates that, at least in grades 3-8, students in earlier grades will experience more of a negative impact when learning stops or slows down than students in later grades, with the caveat that this fact is for the average student. Further research on distance learning suggests that younger students have more trouble processing content delivered via online learning, even if delivery is synchronous. Considering these two points together, school systems may want to consider ways to allocate more or most in-person time to younger students.

All of these options are designed to reduce class size, and risk of COVID-19 transmission. The three options presented in the guide are,”One-Day Rotation”, “Two-Day Rotation”, and “A/B Week. The Superintendent noted that some of these options could be implemented in Phase 2 and 3, but none appear to align with the Governor’s Phase 1.

The following options are from the Department of Education Recovery Plan options

One-Day Rotation

Students report to school one full day a week at all levels (e.g., Elementary, Middle, and High) for four days. Students will be provided assignments to support their learning on the days in which they do not report to school that could include paper, pencil, distance learning, or a combination. All English for Speakers of Other Languages, Special Education, and resource teachers will work with small groups of students to reduce the student-teacher ratios to 10 or less in each learning environment. Fine Arts, Physical Education, and Health teachers would be included in the rotations to reduce the student-teacher ratios. * One day is used for teacher planning and professional learning. Students will not report to the school, distance learning will continue.

Two-Day Rotation

All students report to school two full days a week (e.g., Tuesday/Thursday or Wednesday/ Friday). Students would be provided assignments to support their learning on the days in which they do not report to school that could include paper, pencil, eLearning, or a combination. All English for Speakers of Other Languages, Special Education, and resource teachers will work with small groups of students to reduce the student-teacher ratios to 10 or less in each learning environment. Fine Arts teachers, Physical Education, and Health will be included in the rotations to reduce the student-teacher ratios. * One day is used for teacher planning and professional learning. Students will not report to the school, distance learning will continue.

A/B Week

Half of the student population will report to school for four full days each week, while the remaining second half of the school population participates in distance learning at home. The student population will alternate between each week. All grade bands will be included. Students will be provided assignments to support their learning on the days in which they do not report to school that could include paper, pencil, eLearning, or a combination. All English for Speakers of Other Languages, Special Education, and resource teachers will work with small groups of students to reduce the student-teacher ratios to 10 or less in each learning environment. Fine Arts teachers, Physical Education, and Health will be included in the rotations to reduce the student-teacher ratios. * One day is used for teacher planning and professional learning. Students will not report to a school, distance learning will continue.

Elementary Face-to-Face and Secondary Distance Learning

Elementary students will start school first and attend four full days a week, spread out across two buildings (e.g., Elementary and Middle) to reduce the student-teacher ratio to support social distancing. Secondary students would complete distance learning. This would continue until it is deemed appropriate by the public health officials that it is safe to relax the social distancing. Once it is deemed safe, elementary students would transition back to their home school and secondary students would start. All elementary English for Speakers of Other Languages, Special Education, and resource teachers will work with small groups of students to reduce the student-teacher ratios to 10 or less in each learning environment. Fine Arts teachers, Physical Education, and Health will be included in the rotations to reduce the student-teacher ratios. * One day is used for teacher planning and professional learning. Students will not report to the school, distance learning would continue.

Grade Band Phase-In

The grade band phase-in approach would begin when the public health officials deem it is safe to relax the social distancing. Elementary students will return to school first, for a week. Middle school students would report the second and high school would report the third week. Middle and high school students will continue distance learning while waiting to phase back into school.

When schools systems have to begin planning all of this and taking into consideration their areas COVID-19 situation, they will have to look at what devices they have, staffing(particularly IT),platforms, internet and more.

Based off statements made at the press conference by Dr. Salmon “normal” school days should fall in line with Governor Hogan’s Phase 3, which entails having a treatment or vaccine. Doctors and scientists say a vaccine is 12-18 months away, while several medicines are in fast-tracked trials. With the timelines of the Governor’s Phase 3 and the treatments/vaccine, we could be looking at a return to “normal” schooling no earlier that Jan. 2021.

The Southern Maryland Chronicle will be detailing more the Superintendents Plan for Educational Recovery, along with SoMD’s School Districts Graduation Plans.

The Southern Maryland Chronicle is committed to bringing the Southern Maryland Community the most up-to-date and comprehensive news related to the Novel Coronavirus not just now but in the coming months. Please consider a donation to the COVID-19 Local News Fund. It is tax-deductible and will help The Chronicle in bringing the community the news they want to Know about COVID-19.


David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...