“The goal is to get all of our students back in school,” Goldson said. “In an ideal world, vaccinations would also be available for students [under 12], but until that becomes a reality we still want to offer in-person instruction five days a week when we open in the fall.”
The fall plan also includes a new “online campus” for students in grades seven to 12 who thrived while in virtual learning this year. The program, with both live and recorded instruction, is expected to have just 700 slots and require that students apply. The focus of instruction will be core content, and elective courses will be limited.
Teachers and staff in the state’s second-largest school system, with more than 131,000 students, have had the chance to be vaccinated in recent months. Goldson encouraged students who are 12 and older to get their shots.
She noted that the fall shift marks the end of hybrid instruction, which combines in-school and online lessons — a change that is in line with a recent decision of the Maryland State Board of Education.
The state board voted in late April to require school systems across Maryland to offer instruction in school buildings, with a teacher in the classroom, starting with the fall opening of classes and continuing through the 2021-2022 school year.
State officials have said in-person, in-school instruction was key to providing equitable opportunities for all students. At the time of the decision, 58 percent of students in Maryland were still attending school by computer screen, at home, state officials said.
Students who cannot be in school for medical reasons may apply for a “home and hospital teaching” program the school system has operated, Goldson said.
Prince George’s County in April became the last system in Maryland to bring at least some students back for in person learning.
As of May 1, nearly 37,000 students attended any form of in-person learning, almost 28 percent of the school district’s enrollment. Regionwide, around 40 percent of the roughly 700,000 public school students are learning at least once a week in a school building.
In Prince George’s, a majority of students have learned remotely since March 2020, with many families hesitant to return amid the pandemic. Prince George’s recorded more than 85,200 coronavirus cases, higher than any other county in Maryland.
Goldson presented the school system’s plans in a letter to the community Tuesday, saying she would convene a telephone town hall Wednesday to provide more details.
Some parents quickly had questions.
“I’m hearing that parents were hoping for more options for virtual learning than only one semester,” said Reshma Sinanan-Hill, PTA president at Overlook Full Spanish Immersion School in Temple Hills.
She said she has also heard concerns about students wearing masks and the use of social distancing.
“It’s hard to social distance if you have everyone in school,” she said. “We just need to help our families understand what parameters will be in place for the school year.”
Another parent, Valerie Young, said she loved the idea that the school system is creating an “online campus” for older students. “Despite what so many may think, there were definitely children who flourished in distance learning,” she said.
She added, “My one question is: Is this a permanent plan?”
Goldson said in the interview that the school system would continue to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masks, physical distancing and other safeguards.
“If the CDC is saying in August or September when we return that it is safe for students not to have masks in the building, then we’ll adhere to it,” she said. “If they’re saying the students still need to have it, then we’ll adhere to that.”
Teachers heard about the plan shortly before it was announced and did not have details yet, said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association.
Dudley called the plan the beginning of a conversation about a range of issues: teacher accommodations, social distancing, CDC guidelines and ventilation systems in the school system’s “old and antiquated” buildings.
She also wondered what the school system will do about unvaccinated students.
More than 12,000 of 19,000 or so employees in the school system received vaccinations through an effort the school system was involved in, Goldson said. Other employees presumably got shots through other locations, but how many is unclear.