Maryland schools will be closed at least until May 15, said Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools.
Aside from the scramble to ensure continuity of learning, public elementary, high schools, colleges and universities are also dealing with economic loss, student hunger and developing plans to resume operations when the restrictions are lifted.
Nobody can yet say for certain when schools will reopen or what transformation will be wrought in the end.
In Howard and Anne Arundel Counties, the – changeover to an online learning environment is complete, but the transition required time and money, commodities that are in short supply.
The Anne Arundel County Public School System (AACPS), which serves more than 83,000 students, provided approximately 4,000 Chromebook laptop computers to students without devices. It also boosted Wi-Fi signals to enable students to access and download online learning materials in school parking lots.
Howard County, with nearly 59,000 students, distributed more than 15,000 of its own Chromebooks and spent $5.7 million on 20,000 additional devices.
“We have lots of variables to consider,” said Michael Martirano, superintendent of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). “I am preparing for a longer closure through the end of the school year and anything [shorter] would be a bonus for us.”
Kate Hetherington, president of Howard Community College (HCC), said the college’s online delivery mode would continue through the summer session.
To date, she added, the biggest challenges for students include access to technology, tutoring, counseling and food assistance.
“Another challenge is keeping faculty and staff connected and motivated in a remote environment,” Hetherington said. “[They] have had to learn new skills, adjust to new technology and even take on different day-to-day work.”
Dawn Lindsay, president of Anne Arundel Community College, said summer courses that begin on or after July 7 would be delivered online.
“[We] will make a determination on May 1 about summer face-to-face courses,” she wrote in a message to the college community.
Public schools in both counties have set up food distribution points to provide snacks and lunches for students.
HCC’s college food pantry closed, but as of April 10, the Anne Arundel Community College was still allowing students, faculty and staff to receive one-time or weekly deliveries from its food pantry via direct shipment.
On April 14, Howard County’s Board of Education approved a grading policy change for the fourth quarter, switching to a “P” or passing grade for students who complete 50 percent of online assignments and an “I” or incomplete for those who don’t.
The overall grade for those who don’t make up the required work before mid September will be based on the first three marking periods and the midterm exam.
George Arlotto, superintendent of AACPS, announced that this year’s graduating seniors would need to earn 22.5 credits to receive their diploma, 3.5 fewer than required in previous years but 1.5 more than required by the State Department of Education.
The reduction only applies to elective credits and does not affect core curricula.
“These changes will … afford students in danger of not graduating to reassess their options and potentially earn a diploma,” he said.
Across the board, school administrators anticipate a slow reentry when schools reopen, providing time to re-acclimate staff, prepare teachers and begin the process of bringing students back.
And when they do return, it will likely be to a more dynamic learning environment.
“I fully anticipate many changes will remain in place, such as more online services for students and greater numbers of remote classes to fit busy student schedules,” Hetherington said.
In the event of future snow days, Martirano said the additional Chromebooks should give HCPSS the ability to “hit the online button [so] kids can have that continuity of learning going and I don’t have to make those days up at the end of the year.”
For the time being, though, continuity has been hamstrung.
Martirano met virtually with senior representatives from each HCPSS high school to discuss alternatives for experiences they will miss. Plays, graduations and other end of year activities might be postponed, he said, possibly until August.
Arlotto wants to cancel proms and graduation only as a last resort but acknowledged that current gathering restrictions would prevent those events from happening.
“There are some economic losses around prom, senior activities, field trips and plays,” Martirano said. “I don’t want our schools to suffer for that. We’ll see if the monies we can tap into such as the CARE Act would be able to compensate for that and we will also realize savings from having operations suspended.”
Funds for schools from the Maryland Education Trust Fund, which derive revenue from casinos, are expected to be dismal, possibly requiring further adjustments.
“I want to make certain that everybody is safe first and foremost,” Martirano said. “The questions are evolving and we’re addressing them as they come.”
By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly