Md. Board of Education OKs requirements for new school year

One day after a number of Maryland schools started classes, the state Board of Education approved new requirements for instruction for the school year.

According to the plan approved by the board, schools must include three and a half hours of “synchronous” instruction each day. Synchronous means live, online instruction. It will be up to the school districts to decide how that three and a half hours will be provided for grades K-12.

School districts that planned to not have students return for in-person instruction until the second semester are also required to “reevaluate their reopening plans” and submit them to the Maryland State Department of Education by the third week of November.

The requirements passed by the state school board came after an initial set of benchmarks from state Superintendent Karen Salmon was announced Friday evening.

The Maryland State Education Association blasted the plan when it was first announced. MSEA President Cheryl Bost said in a statement Tuesday, “The conversation at today’s State Board of Education meeting would have been useful months ago; having it today, after the school year has begun in many areas, is incredibly out of touch with the realities that educators, parents, and students are dealing with every day and the hard work that they have done and that is ahead.”

During the state board’s meeting, member Lori Morrow voiced concern about the timing of the requirements. She noted that board members had not seen the slides including options at their last meeting.

“The slides were not actually posted publicly to our website until Saturday morning,” Morrow said.

“What I’ve seen from both parents and staff is that this timing has caused a lot of confusion and frustration,” she added. “I mean, my children today are on Day 2 of school. We have school districts starting this week, and everybody’s starting by next Tuesday.”

Board member Rachel McCusker, a teacher from Carroll County, said she believed “it’s not necessarily appropriate for us to bring extra options to the table” when the public didn’t have a chance to weigh in on it.

“As a matter of process, this is something that I find unacceptable,” McCusker said.

Board member Shawn Bartley defended the decision to act on instruction requirements, saying the COVID-19 pandemic generated situations that were “fluid.”

“I think Gov. [Larry] Hogan and Superintendent Salmon are interested in meeting the parents’ concerns who are having a difficult time balancing their work life with their children’s online instruction,” Bartley said.

He conceded that the timing of the new requirements “could have been better,” but said he thought it was “unfair to be overly critical” of Salmon and the governor.

Board member Vermelle Greene mentioned her concern for extended online learning, saying some students “are really being harmed by online learning.”

She singled out worries that students’ reading skills would suffer. “So much of this online learning is going to really shine a light on the fact that our students’ reading is not on par across the board,” Greene said.

Salmon said the board would work with school systems to provide assistance in making sure that live online instruction could take place. And, she said, she plans to visit schools across the state in the coming weeks, before the next meeting Sept. 22.

“So, I’m looking forward to giving you a kind of a snapshot of what I find on these visits,” Salmon said.

Noting that any schools with in-person learning would be implementing social distancing, Salmon told the board members, “We might not be hugging the kids this year, but we can smile at them and give them our virtual hugs.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The spelling of a name of a board member has been corrected.

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