All are possibilities outlined by state officials in a new 54-page education recovery plan that lays out what school could look like as covid-19 restrictions ease. It is meant to guide Maryland’s 24 school systems, each of which will adopt its own approach.
One thing it makes clear: School as it was is no more, at least not for the near term.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of education more dramatically than any other phenomenon in the history of our state school system,” the report reads. “An event of this magnitude will definitely impact how we provide education to students.”
State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon unveiled the plan Wednesday as she announced that schools in Maryland would be closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. She called it a comprehensive plan designed as not a mandate but as guidance for school systems “as they begin to consider how they will bring students and educators back.”
How soon that could happen remains unclear.
Salmon said schools could reopen partially during stage two of the governor’s three-stage recovery plan, but a full return of the student body would be a part of the final stage. The timing of each stage is based on pandemic data.
Montgomery County Superintendent Jack R. Smith called the education plan “a really good start” and said he hoped students could return to their schools in some form in the coming months, even though it would be “strikingly different than any of us have seen school in the past.”
“I think schools will open in the fall, potentially even in July or August, for summer programming and opportunities for recovery of learning,” he said. “I hope that they do.”
Cynthia Simonson, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, said the document marks an important step toward hammering out what’s next. But she wondered about the cost and whether more teachers or staff would be needed to accommodate smaller class sizes, extra support, temperature-taking and mask enforcement.
The masks pose other challenges, too, she said. “I can see a scenario where teachers are spending as much time enforcing that as teaching content, particularly for younger students,” she said.
The options laid out in the plan mirror ones being considered by districts across the country. They include having students alternate weeks on campus, so fewer are there at any given time. Another idea: spreading children in elementary grades across school buildings — and leaving middle and high school students to distance learning.
“Once it is deemed safe, elementary students would transition back to their home school and secondary students would start,” the report reads.
While children are on campus, schools could hold classes outdoors or in a gymnasium, and stay away from large assemblies, the report suggests. Art, health and physical education classes could be held via video.
So could parent-teacher meetings about student progress, special education needs and disciplinary issues. Parents’ liberty to enter school buildings could be reduced or cut off entirely.
The report also points to research on learning loss when school is out, or the “summer slide.”
“Research on summer slide shows that a break or slowdown in instruction has a greater negative impact on math as compared to English Language Arts,” it says. “This suggests that, if school systems cannot teach all subjects in person, it may be beneficial to prioritize the teaching of math in person.”
In Prince George’s County, Edward Burroughs III, vice chairman of the school board, said he felt it was important to weigh options as soon as possible.
“It’s a good thing to have all of these recommendations to look at because that’s our new normal,” he said.
State officials said approaches are likely to differ by jurisdiction in Maryland, which includes rural and populated areas. Alvin Thornton, school board chairman in Prince George’s, said parents there have already weighed in on remote learning and students falling behind.
“They want issues of inequity to be addressed in whatever is done going forward,” he said.
The report raises the idea of rethinking school calendars, with options for extending the 2020-2021 school year, Saturday school, shorter summer breaks and night classes.
It also touches on strategies for educating students with disabilities, summer programs to help fill in learning gaps and adjustments to career education programs.