Where Do We Go From Here?

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Editor's Note: This column has been updated to include the school closures announcement made on March 25.

During a press conference with Governor Larry Hogan on March 25, Dr. Karen Salmon, Maryland state superintendent of schools, extended school closures for all Maryland public K-12 schools through April 24. Dr. Salmon, the Maryland State Board of Education, and superintendents from each Maryland school system, including the AACPS superintendent, Dr. George Arlotto, are working on plans for “continuity of learning for all students, including students with special needs.” Dr. Salmon also stated that more information will be available in the coming days as the state and local superintendents work collaboratively on a statewide plan that maintains equitable standards and expectations for students. These plans, which will begin next week, will be posted on AACPS’s website and communicated widely through the usual channels.

While the announcement answers one question, many other questions remain. What will continuity of learning for students look like? How will we equitably serve all 85,000 students? Will school be extended into the summer? How will we handle grade promotions, proms and graduations? What about our students at our Centers for Applied Technology who require access to workshops and tools or those who need hours to qualify for certifications? How will we adequately support our special needs students, our ESOL students, and the rest of the student population during this unprecedented, once in a century, global public health crisis?

The answers to these questions are forthcoming. I ask for your patience as the board, Dr. Arlotto, and his staff work with the state to answer these questions and implement solutions.

Any further decisions regarding school closures, “continuity of learning” plans, state assessments and calendar decisions for this academic year will be made by Dr. Salmon in consultation with Governor Hogan. These decisions will NOT made by local boards of education, including the AACPS Board of Education. Local boards do not have the authority to scribble outside the lines of Dr. Salmon’s decisions or executive orders in place, and we would never put any student, teacher or staff member at risk. I have full faith in our state and county governments to lead us through these challenging times.

While much is unclear as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some certainties to draw your attention toward. AACPS has been magnificent in its response to this crisis. Staff began working around the clock once the initial school closure announcement was made, including over the weekend, to establish 52 meal sites which began operating on Monday, March 16, to feed our students in need. Nine additional sites were added shortly thereafter. By the end of the seventh day of meal service, AACPS had already served 119,373 meals to 39,791 students. Workbook packets were distributed to K-5 students who do not have access to our broadcast and e-learning site during the eighth day of meal service. Jodi Risse, supervisor of food and nutrition services for AACPS and her staff are miracle workers in my mind.

The kudos don’t stop there. Unlike higher education, K-12 is not equipped to flip a switch and provided online or distance instruction comparable to what our students are accustomed to in school classrooms. Immediately after the initial school closure announcement was made, staff began working nonstop to provide educational materials to keep students engaged and their reading and math skills sharp. The materials found at www.aacps.org/elearning are impressive and have been very well received by students. As stated previously, additional information regarding continuity of learning plans for all students will be released in the coming days.

We never dreamed we’d be in the situation we now find ourselves in. Whatever the road ahead looks like, know that Dr. Arlotto, his staff, my board colleagues, and I prioritize your students’ education above all else. Be patient and kind to each other and with us. This too shall pass. We will get through these challenging times together. As always, I am available at dschallheim@aacps.org and encourage your ideas and feedback.

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