BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County have joined other local school systems in starting the next school year online only, sending parents into planning mode to make sure their kids are learning this fall.
In Baltimore, schools CEO Sonja Santelises also wants to push back the start until after Labor Day. Still, she is hopeful for a hybrid of online and in-person classes at some point.
“We want to be able to do right. We want to be able to keep our staff as safe as possible,” she said.
The school system will let parents know of its next steps by October 17, Santelises added.
“We are balancing health concerns and also what we know — and have heard from parents and families — will be a disproportionate impact of prolonged closure,” Santelises said.
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The Baltimore Teachers Union called the decision a “victory” that was a “direct result” of lobbying by its members.
Still, the fight isn’t over, the union said in a statement, referring to the forthcoming announcement of the possible hybrid learning model:
“While we are eager to return to school, we are not blind to the challenges of doing so during this pandemic,” the statement reads. “Any return to in-person learning must prioritize and guarantee the highest standards for health and safety. Any return must be guided by science and the expertise of educators. Any return to in-person learning also must have renewed commitments to funding and supports so schools are not just ready to open on a chosen date but are safe places to learn and work for the entire school year.”
In Anne Arundel County, the entire first semester will be virtual.
“We all want students to be back in our buildings, but there are very real concerns about returning to those settings in September for us and for a significant portion of our families and our employees,” Superintendent George Arlotto said. “What carries the most weight for me, however, is the data and the science. I have been communicating with [county health officer] Dr. Kalyanaraman regularly and his advice to me is that, given the current state of the pandemic and the fact that Maryland remains in Stage 2 of its Road to Recovery, the best course of action is to begin the year virtually.”
The Anne Arundel County school system has been making improvements to its online system since the spring semester, adding features like more real-time learning between teachers and students and a virtual orientation.
Nicole Wirth, an Anne Arundel County parent, said she hopes the improvements and early decision make things easier for everyone when classes resume.
“I’m hoping that with a month to plan everything out that it will be a little bit easier at the beginning of the school year next year,” she said.
Both school systems’ announcements came after Maryland reported more than 700 new cases a day for three days last week and more than 900 new cases Sunday. On Monday, the state recorded 554 new cases and five more deaths.
Matt and Chelsea Shudtz, who have kids entering kindergarten and second grade, said while they support the decision, it comes with challenges as working parents.
“Bringing students back into classrooms just is a recipe for disaster,” Matt Shudtz said.
Stephanie Smith, a parent in Anne Arundel County, wonders how her family will juggle work and school from home.
“We have kids in grade school and we both work full time, so trying to figure out how we’re going to be teachers and parents and moms and dads,” she said.
Some of those challenges include access to computers and other devices to do homework.
“I don’t have my own computer so we both have to use my mom’s,” seventh-grader Juniper Lentz, who attends Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, said. She added that when classes overlap with her sister, sometimes one of them will have to skip them.
Her sister Sallie, a second-grader at Federal Hill Prep, shared concerns about not being able to see her friends and the technical challenges of online learning, while their mother Clare worries about the quality of their education.
WJZ reporters Mike Hellgren, Annie Rose Ramos and Rachel Menitoff contributed to this report.