State education officials approve school districts’ plans to eventually resume in-person classes

Maryland education officials have approved plans for all 24 school systems to eventually resume in-person classes, as expectations build at the state level to bring at least some students back to school buildings this fall.

Maryland schools superintendent Karen Salmon told the state board of education Tuesday that all school systems had submitted revised plans to adhere to the criteria for operating during the pandemic. Baltimore City was the only system that submitted a plan that did not need revisions.

With Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that the state is entering the third and final stage of his administration’s plan for relaxing restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Salmon said it is safe for all schools to reopen.

“Everyone is able to open, and almost all school systems” are beginning to, she said. “We are going to start to see an increase in the number of students getting back to school. At least that is our hope.”

A survey of school systems shows that 17 school systems plan to bring some students back this fall, although many school systems have limited the groups to students with disabilities and other students who have difficulty learning outside of school.

Harford County is considering a phased plan to bring students back one-day per week, ending with high school students coming back in November. And Baltimore County will bring back students with disabilities and primary school students by Nov. 13.

Two state school board members suggested the board should expect schools to return students to buildings this fall, and if they decide not to, they should have to justify the decision. However, Salmon said the decision should be left up to the local school boards and superintendents who have the authority to open the schools.

“All the research suggests that the infection rate is very low and we are all ready to go back,” said Rose Marie Li, a member from Montgomery County.

“School systems must make a priority to open schools as soon as possible or tell us why,” said Vermelle Greene, a state board member from Charles County.

Li also wants the state to look at supporting the return to schools by helping school systems purchase protective equipment. Salmon said the state agencies had been purchasing some protective gear and that she was not aware of a school system that needed it.

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