Maryland schools will stay closed through May 15, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced on Friday.
The announcement extends for the second time a state order closing all public school buildings across the state as COVID-19, or the coronavirus, spreads.
The closures affect more than 166,000 students in 208 schools in Montgomery County, and nearly 900,000 students statewide.
The last day of classes in Montgomery County is scheduled for June 15.
“We will use this time to examine every option and continue to develop a long-term plan for recovery,” Salmon said.
School buildings across the state have been closed since March 16, focusing on learning online.
On March 25, Salmon announced that schools would remain closed through April 24. At the time, Gov. Larry Hogan said it was “somewhat aspirational,” signaling that closures could last longer.
During a press conference on Friday, Salmon extended the closures until mid-May, although it could continue beyond then. She has said previously that school districts must prepare for even longer disruptions into the fall or multiple stints of remote learning if there are several waves of infection.
Salmon said school districts across the state have been “working on a number of creative alternatives” to traditional commencements should the pandemic prevent graduations from occurring as scheduled.
“I don’t think that we’re going to be seeing the types of ceremonies, at this point, that we had in the past,” Salmon said.
In a message to community members shortly following the announcement, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith wrote that the district is “sad and frustrated that our students and staff won’t be able to be together in schools to learn and work together in person for another month.” However, the message said, “we believe that this was the right decision for the health and safety of our students and community.”
More information about the school district’s plan for remote learning will be released over the weekend, Smith wrote.
As of Friday afternoon, 26 states had made the call to close schools until at least the fall.
In March, Gov. Ralph Northam closed Virginia schools for the remainder of the academic year. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser followed suit on Friday morning. She said the school year will end on May 29 in the district, about a month early, and a summer learning plan will be announced in mid-May.
When asked why Maryland schools were not closed for the remainder of the year on Friday, Salmon said she feels, due to the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic, it is more appropriate to make “strategic” and “incremental” decisions.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen and I certainly don’t want to dash the hopes of many children and parents,” Salmon said.
This week, Hogan said the state is seeing the benefits of social distancing and officials are drafting a plan for a gradual reopening of businesses, recreation and schools.
New federal guidance for plans to ease social distancing requirements and reopen businesses says there first should be at least 14 days of reduction in COVID-19 cases.
Maryland continues to see a significant increase in new cases each day. Hogan said he is reviewing federal guidance and will make further announcements about Maryland’s “roadmap to recovery” next week.
The first two weeks of local school closures in March were declared “emergency closures,” which halted all teaching and grading.
MCPS began its transition to online learning on March 30. Chromebook laptops have been loaned to more than 55,000 students — about one-third of the district’s students, according to Smith.
Teachers use online video conferencing platforms to host live class lessons and virtual “office hours” to provide additional help for students. Students can also get paper packets of lessons.
In previous interviews with Bethesda Beat, school leaders have expressed concern about the effect of extended school closures on students’ learning, particularly those who require special education services or are English language learners.
The risk of learning loss in those student populations is great, according to national education researchers, which could widen the local achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers.
A recent estimate of students’ potential learning losses by the nonprofit NWEA suggested extended school closures could have the most dramatic impact on students’ math proficiency. The report says “students may return in fall 2020 with less than 50% of typical learning gains, and, in some grades, nearly a full year behind what we would expect in this subject under normal conditions.”
In an interview last month, Smith said he hopes MCPS’ “interlocking goals of excellence and equity” would offset any potential widening of the achievement gap.
“We keep those balanced all the time and it’s my goal that any effect would be mitigated by the work we do as a school system,” Smith said.
In a separate interview, Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro said MCPS has begun discussing “potential summer learning opportunities for students who are disproportionately affected.”
Salmon said other districts across the state have also begun to develop a range of options for summer learning opportunities for students.
MCPS is devising a plan, with assistance from state education officials, about how to take students’ attendance during online learning.
On Tuesday, the state Board of Education approved waivers for some standard graduation requirements for high school seniors, including requirements for student service learning hours. Also waived were requirements that seniors pass certain state tests that seniors have been required to pass to earn a diploma since 2009.
MCPS has not yet released its plan for fourth marking period grading. Some community members have called on the school district to scrap letter grades and move to pass/fail grading, as many colleges have done.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com
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