One week after being presented with three options for re-opening Baltimore County Public Schools, the county school board met in a special session last week and opted to chose the safest option.
By a vote of 11-1 on July 21, the school board decided to use remote learning for the entire first semester that begins Sept. 8 and ends on January 29.
The request to go with the plan for virtual learning rather than full in-person education or a hybrid plan of partial in-person and partial remote learning was made by BCPS Superintendent Dr. Darryl Williams.
Williams had made his preference to start with full remote learning during the previous week’s meeting when the three options were introduced.
“As we move forward to the opening of schools in the fall, there are a number of unknowns and moving parts that have yet to be considered,” Williams said during the previous week’s meeting. “To that end, I am leaning towards a virtual reopening with some kind of phased-in approach after we open.”
The school system hopes to build upon lessons learned when the county used a form of remote learning after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools last spring from mid-March through the end of the school year.
According to the draft document released by the county, schools will maintain a bell schedule during this first semester of remote learning.
Each individual school will have flexibility in creating its own bell schedule. Students will receive a minimum two hours and up to three-and-a-half hours of live instruction from teachers each day and will then have up to three hours of independent work.
Attendance will be recorded daily and teachers will follow traditional grading and reporting procedures for student work and assignments.
At the end of the first semester (if the pandemic allows), the school system will switch to a hybrid instructional approach for the rest of the school year which will bring some students back to the school buildings for in-person education for a few days a week on a rotating basis, while parents will have a choice to stay with remote learning for their children.
The county re-opening plan must still be approved by the Maryland State Board of Education.
The county conducted a survey after the 2019-20 school year and collected 52,000 responses from students, parents and school staff.
Students preferred to return to full in-person education, with that option receiving 42 percent of the student vote while full remote learning got 20 percent.
Full remote learning was also the last option preferred by the parents responding to the survey; they opted for the hybrid plan (34 percent) and full in-person (30 percent), with only 27 percent of parents choosing full remote learning.
School staff, however, had 43 percent of respondents desiring full remote learning, while 35 percent chose the hybrid plan and 23 percent the full in-person option.
The decision to go with full remote learning was also influenced by rising COVID-19 infection rates in Baltimore County as of Jul 16m and medical models predicting another increase in infections this fall.
The full 14-page draft proposal can be viewed on the Baltimore County Schools website at bcps.org.
During the discussion of the remote learning plan during the school board meeting last week, an amendment was proposed stating the plan would be reviewed and revised as deemed appropriate at the end of each academic quarter.
The motion failed.
Another motion amended the plan to include having BCPS survey all “stakeholders” at the end of each academic quarter in order to garner feedback and use it to improve the remote learning process.
That amendment passed by a 7-5 vote.
An amendment requiring teachers to provide live instruction every school day, for every course, failed, while an amendment requiring BCPS to provide guidance and resources for conducting school and extracurricular activities in a virtual environment, passed.
Rod McMillion was the only board member to vote against re-opening schools with complete remote learning for the first semester.
“I think families and teachers need to have a choice on whether they want to assume the risk,” McMillion said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought difficult economic conditions on Dundalk and all of Baltimore County, but the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) will soon introduce a solution for those seeking a change.
Beginning with the fall semester, CCBC will offer tuition-free courses to all those who qualify. CCBC’s president, Sandra Kurtinitis, said this will be made possible due to a combination of federal pell grants, scholarship funds and federal stimulus money.
“What we’ve done is we’ve put everything into one pot,” Kurtinitis told this newspaper. “That’s an odd way to say it, but we have federal stimulus that we’ve received that must go to students. We have an increase in our Baltimore County Promise Scholarship funding.”
Kurtinitis said that tuition-free courses are coming at a time when unemployment is high and people are unsure about what the future holds. The “tuition-free” part is made possible due to CCBC pooling together several scholarships, as well as federal and state stimulus funding it has received that must be spent on students, she said.
“Given this time we are in, this pandemic-infused darkness that we’ve all been in, people are hurting, people have lost jobs, high school graduates but perhaps didn’t go off to their college of choice,” Kurtinitis said. “Students of other colleges are remaining at home. We know that there are a lot of people out there who are struggling to know what their next steps should be.”
Kurtinitis said that CCBC has pooled together around $35 million for students to apply for in order to take tuition-free courses. Students must qualify to register courses, and some of the scholarships have certain requirements, such as residential requirements or household income requirements, she said.
“If they qualify, we’re going to do everything in our power to make it possible for students who have been affected by [COVID-19] and even students who haven’t been affected by [COVID-19] but plan to come to CCBC, or are CCBC students anyway,” Kurtinitis said. “We’re just doing everything we can to make sure that the news gets out, that if you are interested, we want to have a conversation with you.”
Kurtinitis said that students who do qualify will have access to CCBC’s entire course catalog. Degree-seeking students will be able to take required courses in their respective degree fields. Those who may be seeking a new technical skill will be able use scholarship money for workforce training programs, she said.
“We offer anything, whether it’s online, in-seat or hybrid,” Kurtinitis said. “This is true for students who wish to pursue some type of degree program, but it is also true for people who have lost their jobs. We’ve received a very nice award from [Gov. Larry Hogan’s] stimulus fund. He had $45 million to fund education at all levels. He awarded $10 million to the community colleges.”
“Because we have such a large workforce program, we do so much in the non-credit world where in six weeks we can turn into a home health aide or a certified nurse assistant. It’s not always that short of a timeframe, but people have lost their jobs. Without jobs, and given that the stimulus funding ends this week, people who lost their jobs and need to get a new job are who we are reaching out to.”
Kurtinitis said that CCBC offers over 100 academic programs, but the community college offers “hundreds” of short-term certification programs.
Kurtinitis said that tuition-free courses will continue until all the money runs out. CCBC continues to apply for all possible funding and will continue to do so going forward, whether it be at the federal or state level, or through private philanthropy, she said.
“We are scraping every dollar we can into this one bucket because we have people in our communities who are hurting,” Kurtinitis said. “If my children were still of college age, I’d be thinking twice before sending them back to Massachusetts to live in a dorm and study online. I’d be thinking, ‘maybe it’s better to spend a semester or two at the community college.’”
The CCBC Fall 2020 semester is scheduled to begin Aug. 31. Those who wish to register for fall courses or to find more information about what is offered at CCBC can do so by visiting www.ccbcmd.edu.
Don Kellner, a strong advocate for steelworkers and the Dundalk/Sparrows Point community, passed away on Monday night. He was 83.
Don was an officer in the Steelworkers Union Local 2609 and was president of the steelworker retirees for many years.
A longtime member of the July 4 Parade committee, Don and his wife, Betty, worked hard contacting and lining up marching bands for the parade, handling contracts and finding lodging for the band members.
The community honored Don last year by making him the honorary Grand Marshall of the July 4 Parade.
There will not be any service at this time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A memorial service will be held when restrictions ease.
Cards and condolences may be sent to Betty Kellner, 2612 Plainfield Road, 21222.
Donations in Don’s memory may be sent to the USWA 9477 Retirees, c/o John Allen, Treasurer, 2429 Whitt Road, 21087.