Baltimore City Public Schools will welcome some students back to classrooms starting next month, the school system announced Wednesday.
The school system will offer in-person classes to “prioritized students” at 25 schools for the remainder of the first semester.
The in-person classes will be targeted toward young students, students with disabilities, English language learners and students who have had difficulty accessing online learning, schools CEO Sonja Santelises said during an online news briefing.
“We’re not talking about a full reopening of schools with entire school populations,” Santelises said.
The majority of students will remain taking virtual classes and all families will be able to continue the virtual option if desired.
“We’re not saying everybody must return to in-person,” Santelises said. “But we do know that for, you know, numbers of our young people, their learning experience in the virtual space just is not meeting their needs.”
Since the start of the school year, the logon rate for virtual classes has fluctuated, going from about 65% of students at the start of the year to more than 80% over the last couple of weeks, the CEO said.
She said staff members who are needed to support the reopening of classrooms at the 25 schools would be required to return, but that they would have access to leave and other accommodations.
In selecting schools where classrooms would reopen, Santelises said, administrators looked at schools that serve large concentrations of vulnerable groups and also took into account the geographic distribution of schools, as well as the readiness of the schools’ teams and buildings.
“That’s what we will use … It is imperfect, without a doubt,” she said. “And there is much in the world since this pandemic that will be imperfect.”
Santelises said “there’s no overall consensus” for doing a full reopening or sticking with virtual classes.
About 50% of families in a recent “pop-up survey” said they intended to remain in virtual learning mode, she said. About 25% of families said they wanted to opt for in-person learning and another 25% of families said they wanted more information before determining whether to return to school.
Santelises said the school system is working with the Baltimore City Health Department as well as its own health advisory committee, which is made up of experts from Johns Hopkins University and other universities, to review health metrics.
In Baltimore County, school officials announced last month teachers would return to classroom this month with students still attending classes virtually before small groups of students return to classrooms next month.
In D.C., school officials announced last week that public schools would welcome most elementary schools back to classrooms under a phased reopening plan.
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