BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Baltimore City Schools’ CEO says the virtual start to this unprecedented school year has been fairly smooth.

“It’s been a real solid start to the new year,” Dr. Sonja Santelises told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “Our school board — our community — is absolutely monitoring the health conditions within Baltimore City. We want to responsibly return. We’ve actually had some students in person since the summer in much smaller groups. We will be opening this Monday more student learning centers. We’ll be bringing back some of our most vulnerable students.”

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The system will partner with the city to open some campuses and rec centers for in-person help on students’ virtual lessons. An announcement is scheduled for Monday.

She also said the district has worked to make online instruction on the Zoom platform more secure.


It comes as the governor is increasingly pressuring school systems to open for in-person instruction, with many teachers fighting back, citing safety concerns.

“We share the urgency that I’m sure the governor and the state superintendent do, but I know with all of my colleagues across the state, there’s no disagreement that the best place for young people is to be is back in school. We just have a commitment to do it safely,” Santelises said.

She recently made the difficult decision to lay off more than 400 temporary employees, including some teachers, because of dire financial predictions.

“There’s a cost to reopening schools. There’s a cost to PPE,” Santelises said. “The financial issues — this is not just Baltimore City, this is not just us. This is across the state. This is across the country.”

She hopes to be able to bring back some of those temporary workers as the budget allows.

“No one ever takes joy in having to make cuts, particularly to a number of people who are essential to schools,” she said.

Santelises will make a major announcement on what’s next for the more than 80,000 students in her charge on October 16.

“Our priorities are to keep people safe and to preserve the instructional core, and to do it in a fiscally responsible manner,” she said.

An Abrupt Timeline Shift

In Baltimore County, the superintendent abruptly reversed a decision to bring teachers back inside classrooms next month.

“We are extremely pleased with that decision,“ said Cindy Sexton, the president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

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Unions representing teachers and support staff fought the surprise move, threatening legal action.

“We are very confident that moving forward those decisions will be made with all of our input and not as a surprise,” Sexton said.

A small number of students with disabilities will head back to class in November, but there are no large-scale plans to bring back entire grades this year as previously announced.

“We are hopeful that we can be back in the classroom but only when it is safe to do so,” Sexton said.

Baltimore County Public Schools provided the following statement to WJZ:

“Baltimore County Public Schools has revised its timeline for a phased-in resumption of in-person learning. The revised timeline calls for staff to return to the school system’s four public separate day schools on Monday, Nov. 2, with students at those schools having the option to begin in-person learning on Monday, Nov. 16.

“The schools to be impacted – Battle Monument, Maiden Choice, Ridge Ruxton, and White Oak – serve students with disabilities who receive special education and related services. According to the school system, the return of these students and staff will be closely monitored, and further adjustments will be made as necessary.

“The timeline no longer calls for all staff to return to school buildings in October and no longer calls for identified preschool, PreKindergarten, and Kindergarten students to resume in-person learning in November.

“‘Making plans in this ever-changing landscape is challenging and requires flexibility,’ said BCPS Superintendent Dr. Darryl L. Williams. ‘Through it all, our priority continues to be the health and safety of our students and staff while maximizing learning and wellbeing. We are focused on providing rigorous and engaging instruction for all students and finding ways to provide in-person learning to those students who will benefit most.’

“BCPS is seeking feedback from families and staff regarding the revised timeline. Families of students at the four schools slated to physically reopen in November will be surveyed from October 2 – 9 to indicate whether they want their children to return to the school building or continue online instruction. In addition, all BCPS stakeholders may send feedback to for review by the BCPS Reopening Design Team and COVID-19 task force.”

The county has not yet made a decision about whether to allow fall high school sports, though Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Thursday they can return.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.