Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon announced Friday that Maryland is extending the closure of schools through May 15 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, using the month-long postponement to consider long-term recovery procedure.
She said that school superintendents across the state are looking into additional distance learning and recovery plans, including the possibility of extended summer school.
“State and local school officials are preparing for a number of scenarios depending on when our educators and students would be able to re-enter school buildings,” she said at a news conference outside the State House Friday.
Salmon explained that the summer school program being planned by superintendents across the state would provide “expanded opportunities.” She described it as “robust.”
School districts are expected to deliver continuity of learning plans to the Maryland State Department of Education, including sample workday plans, procedures for measuring student performance, ways to address equity for kids with special needs and a list of resources to help everyone gain access to online instruction.
The last day of in-person classroom instruction across the state was March 13.
Efforts are underway to reactivate the state: During the news conference, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said that his administration has been long at work on a plan.
“The recovery plan that we have been developing over many weeks has four building blocks that must be solidly in place before the lifting of restrictions,” he said. They are:
• Increasing coronavirus testing capability
• Expanding hospital surge capacity
• Strengthening the state’s access to personal protective equipment
• Establishing a “robust contact tracing operation”
Salmon said that the state has to meet each of the four marks in the governor’s plan before she could consider calling schools back into session.
Cheryl Bost, Maryland State Board of Education president and a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, called this “the right decision,” adding that while distance learning is not ideal, teachers will continue to do their best for their students.
“We know that this type of learning is no substitute for in-person learning, and we will need to be thoughtful and serious about how we help students recover from this crisis,” she said. “Recent weeks have magnified existing inequities — whether of technology access, food security, or otherwise — that our students face every day and that challenge their ability to succeed in school. We must come together to address these issues over the short- and long-term.”
Distance learning inequities for kids in under-served areas have been at the forefront of the conversation for education advocates across the state.
Salmon stated that school districts have increased their ability to reach students through online learning mechanisms, and are getting better at it.
“We are helping school systems obtain these resources such as additional devices, platforms for learning and expanded broadband capabilities that they need to carry out their plans in equitable and meaningful ways,” she said.
Maryland received $207 million in funding for schools provided by the federal CARES Act that passed late last month.
Salmon said that 90% of that money will go directly to local school districts in an effort to address gaps in distance learning resources.
The state superintendent acknowledged the anxiety that the extended school closing have created across the state.
This may be especially true for high school seniors who are set to graduate in May and June.
Salmon explained that local superintendents are looking into “creative alternatives” to traditional graduation ceremonies.
“There’s a lot of superintendents who have talked about virtual celebrations,” she said, ”and so I don’t think that we’re going to be seeing the, the types of ceremonies, at this point, that we had in the past.”
During the newly extended school closures, the Department of Education will continue to provide childcare services for essential workers.
Under the federal CARES Act passed earlier this month, Maryland has received $45.8 million to maintain these programs through the public health crisis.
Salmon said that thus far, 25,000 children have been enrolled across 3,700 state-funded sites, with the potential to serve an additional 20,000 kids, if necessary.
Essential workers in need of these services can find operating locations through a service available on the Department of Education website.
By Hannah Gaskill