ANNAPOLIS — As an initial two-week closure of Maryland public schools neared its March 27 end, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced a further four-week shutdown to last through April 24 in response to the spreading novel coronavirus.
The decision was announced during a news conference held by Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday, March 25, at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
The school decision was made by the State Board of Education after “lengthy discussions” with Maryland health experts, Salmon said.
“We do not make this decision lightly. However, with the challenges facing our state and our country, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our school communities and the community at large,” the superintendent said.
Salmon said it is “too soon” to definitively say when schools will reopen given the fast-changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19’s spread. She said the state “will continue to reassess the situation as we move forward.”
The move to extend the school shutdown came two days after Hogan ordered the closure of nonessential businesses.
On Friday, March 21 Superintendent of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools Dr. Andrea Kane outlined a tentative plan for continued learning.
“While some families may be better positioned to continue student learning using distance learning methods; a lack of access to the Internet and limited wireless data plans present barriers for others,” Kane wrote in a letter to parents and guardians. “QACPS will likely use Google Classroom once we are up and running, however, equity is a critical consideration. It is important to note that any learning model that is utilized must be accessible by all students. In addition to the materials that were sent home with students and the QACPS Suggested Guidelines for Parents and Guardians for Supporting Prek-12 Learning During School Closures, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has provided additional resources for parents to use with students at home.”
New activities for all core content areas and grade levels were shared in the electronic format of the letter via an online shared drive.
Kane said she is also sensitive to the fact that some teachers are also without internet access at home and some teachers, like many families, have had interruptions in their daycare and may be limited in their ability to fully engage in online work on short notice.
An internet survey is available at www.qacps.org that will help the school system with an accurate understanding of any limitations to internet access.
On March 25, Salmon said the Maryland State Department of Education’s immediate focus is fine-tuning local school systems’ educational plans and ensuring each jurisdiction has equal access to resources they might need during the prolonged closure.
“My staff at (MSDE) has been reviewing the (local superintendents’) plans to determine what support and resources the state can provide where needed,” she said. “More information will become available in the coming days as we work collaboratively on a statewide plan that maintains equitable standards and expectations for students.”
Salmon said local school systems are responsible for communicating with their individual communities as they move forward with implementing their plans.
When asked whether summer school is on the table for students to make up for lost educational time, Salmon said the state is “going to look at all kinds of creative solutions going forward.”
“We may look at an extended year, but we’re trying to get geared up to do the continuity of learning piece first and then we’ll have some time,” the superintendent said. “Once we get that down and understand how effective that is, then we can start planning for other kinds of things we might need to do.”
Editor Hannah Combs contributed to this article.