HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Students enrolled with the Howard County Public School System will not be returning to the classroom this fall. Thursday night, the Howard County Board of Education met and approved a virtual first semester, which will run from Sept. 8 through Jan. 28, 2021.

School officials will finalize and submit the HCPSS return to learn plan to the Maryland State Department of Education for approval, which is due by Aug. 14. Officials followed three priorities when making the decision:

  • Safety and well-being for students and staff.

  • High quality instruction for all students.

  • Resource availability, including funding.

Howard County Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said during the Thursday meeting that the interaction model will be virtual and will be “significantly more rigorous” than the past spring continuity of learning program.

This fall, students in all grade levels will participate in four days of teacher-led class instruction each week, then complete assignments on the fifth day on their own. In addition to the core classes, Martirano said during the meeting that fine arts classes at the elementary level and sectionals and GT seminars at the middle school level will utilize live, teacher-led virtual instruction. Grab-and-go meals will continue to be provided at meal distribution sites. Students also can obtain support from teachers during specific times plugged into the weekday schedule.

Martirano credited his staff and their ability to follow “stringent guidelines and do everything in their power to create and maintain a safe and healthy environment.” But even that may not be enough, he said.

“It is not guaranteed that COVID-19 won’t infiltrate our schools and offices and be spread between students and staff. In fact, I believe that most of us could agree that an outbreak on some level would be likely,” he said.

A virtual format implemented for the first semester will allow officials to continue working on both a hybrid and in-person learning model that may be implemented yet this coming school year.

“We don’t know what October, November or next February will look like, so we need to focus on the task immediately in front of us, which is starting the school year on Sept. 8,” Martirano said. “We will continue to reevaluate the constantly evolving situation and begin to move to a hybrid or in-person model as we are able to do so. Attempting to make those decisions now for months in advance is premature.”

This article originally appeared on the Ellicott City Patch

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