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by Suzanne Copeland, Freelance Journalist

Leonardtown, MD- St. Mary’s County Public Schools (SMCPS) recently hosted a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the county’s plans to reopen schools. While many topics were discussed, the biggest was what needs to happen before schools can reopen in the fall. Schools closed March 16 when State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon closed schools due to COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. J. Scott Smith, Superintendent of SMCPS, discussed thirteen requirements that must be met to open schools in some capacity. These requirements may be difficult for the district meet before the start of the school year, according to Smith.

The first requirement is that each school district must have their recovery plans completed and posted on their websites by August 14.

Second, a plan to incorporate equity as a component in the local recovery plan. The guide will serve as a tool to develop goals in each district’s Every Student Succeeds Act Consolidated Strategic Plan. Those goals and strategies are intended to increase equitable opportunities for all students.

Next, SMCPS must form stakeholder groups (more on that in another article).

Fourth, the school system must identify learning gaps and instructional placement of students.

The district must also follow and maintain curricular frameworks and MD College and Career Ready standards. These standards are critical to building the foundational knowledge needed to ensure student success.

The sixth step must show how the district will continue to follow the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the American’s with Disabilities Act.

Additionally, the school system must have a plan to adopt health procedures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Maryland Health Department. If a student, teacher, or staff member should test positive for COVID-19, the district must also be prepared to implement a communication process when notified of possible COVID-19 symptoms, positive test for the virus, or possible exposure to the virus within the last 14 days. This includes working with the St. Mary’s County Health Department to implement the contact tracing process.

The eighth requirement also focuses on health protocols. The district must follow safety procedures for collection of materials, cleaning of schools, daily cleaning, and nutrition as established by Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and the CDC. This includes shared objects/materials, ventilation systems, water systems, physical barriers, communal spaces, and food services.

SMCPS also needs to present a plan for the safe transportation of students to and from schools. This includes the use of masks on buses, alternating rows for seating, allowing siblings to sit together, and cleaning the buses prior to transporting students.

Next, the district must develop a tracking system for students to monitor their virtual class time to ensure students are actively working on their class assignments.

Additionally, three more requirements must be met to re-open the schools under Governor Larry Hogan’s Stage Two Roadmap to Recovery plan. This includes developing a plan for communication. SMCPS must establish regular channels of communication, including who will coordinate the communication between parents, students, teachers, staff, media, and the public.

SMCPS must also use the COVID-19 checklist in the development of the recovery plan before schools can resume in-classroom lessons.

Finally, the district is required to show how the Maryland Public Secondary Athletic Association roadmap aligns with the MSDE and the local school system’s educational and health and safety decisions for education-based athletics and activities to resume.

Smith reiterated many of these requirements will prove challenging as the district moves forward with the recovery plan. A survey was recently distributed to parents to gauge how they feel about moving forward with in-person learning in the fall if CDC guidelines are followed. You can find that survey here.

Continue to follow Southern Maryland Chronicle for more information regarding SMCPS’s plan for recovery plan.

This article was updated on June 30, 2020 at 11:30 a.m. to provide more clarity on the steps involved.


Suzanne Copeland

I am a former breaking news reporter and journalist from TheBayNet.com, where I served 5 years covering all of Southern Maryland's breaking news. I did all of this while raising a family consisting of...