The Frederick County School Board in Maryland has voted to increase the amount of in-class instruction available to elementary students starting in May.
The move gives parents the option to send their elementary-age children back to the classroom as often as four-days per week now that the county has adjusted spacing requirements to 3 feet for younger students, in-line with updated CDC guidance.
The vote passed narrowly, and only after other resolutions that would have broadened the pool of students eligible to return four days per week were defeated.
It also came with repeated warnings from Superintendent Theresa Alban about the difficulties the county might face in trying to get more kids back in the classroom on short notice, though many of the difficulties she cited were focused on high school students.
“If the board wants us to go there, we will go there, but I don’t want you to think it’s going to be a simple, easy way to do it,” Alban said. “I’m not offering excuses for you, I just want you to understand the reality of what it will involve to do this.”
The primary concerns she focused on dealt with spacing during lunches and on school buses, and she made clear not every school will face the same challenges others will have in maintaining safe distances based on their school’s design, the number of students already receiving in-person instruction and how many more might opt-in to add more days of in-person learning.
It’ll now be up to the school system to use the next two weeks to figure out how to make it work.
“Many of the school systems where students are attending four-days-per week, the school system has basically had to say to parents ‘we can no longer follow the CDC guidance,'” Alban told the board.
“We cannot guarantee they will always be 6 feet apart. We cannot guarantee that they will be 6 feet apart when eating if we reduce to 3 feet in classrooms. And many times in the situation with the buses, they have simply said to parents, ‘This is how many students will be on the bus,’ and then parents have to make their own decisions.”
Board member Sue Johnson noted other private schools in the area have had students in the classroom five days a week and managed to make it, and said if she could vote to do the same, she would.
“Our children have suffered enough,” she argued, before concluding with: “I know this is going to be more work, but our kids are worth it.”
The board also voted to proceed through the summer as if students would be back in the classroom for five days a week when the new school year begins in the fall.
Meanwhile, in Prince George’s County, schools are welcoming back students in seventh through 11th grade for their first days of in-person learning in over a year.
Students on the hybrid learning model there will get two days of in-class instruction and three days of virtual instruction.
The number of students showing up at each school will vary the rest of the year. But last week, schools CEO Monica Goldson said about 30% of the county’s students had opted to return for two days a week.