Coronavirus Update: Extended Closures, Changes to College Admissions, New Grading Policies and More

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague our country, several decisions have been handed down at both the state and local level with far-reaching implications for students.

State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon announced Friday that all Maryland public schools will be closed until May 15 at the earliest. Many believe at this point we will not be returning to school this year. Dr. Salmon assures that local school systems’ superintendents will continue to roll out plans for effective distance learning, but many feel as though current remote learning efforts have been confusing, uncoordinated and unhelpful. 

MCPS says secondary students can continue to expect one or two “meaningful assignments” from teachers at the beginning of each week and may expect to work on assignments for up to four hours each day. Check-ins with teachers via Zoom will be scheduled according to individual schools’ policies. 

In response to the extended closures, MCPS posted an update on their Coronavirus Updates webpage that fourth quarter grades for middle and high school students will appear on transcripts as Pass/Incomplete or Credit/No Credit. 

MCPS says this is an attempt to ensure equity for all students, so hardships they’re experiencing during this time do not negatively affect them long-term. However, many high school students fear this change will hurt them when it comes time to apply for colleges. Based upon several emails from institutions of higher learning and talks with college admissions counselors and officers, it seems that many colleges and universities understand school districts are departing from their normal grading framework during this unprecedented time and will read students’ applications in context. Many colleges are going “pass/fail” themselves. 

Along those same lines, several colleges are also going test-optional for the Class of 2021. Students thinking about applying to colleges this fall should still plan to take their standardized tests if possible, however, and they should continuously check the admissions policies of the institutions they are interested in attending. 

At the state level, Maryland seniors’ state standardized testing requirements have been waived, as have their Student Service Learning (SSL) requirements. 

Given the extended closures, many students are also worrying about the fate of milestones like prom and graduation. At this time, Blake has not announced any updates, but Dr. Salmon hinted at the possibility of school systems hosting online proms, which students elsewhere have already participated in. Virtual graduation ceremonies are also not out of the question and MCPS staff are scheduled to meet to discuss alternatives. 

The feasibility of in-person celebrations will depend upon the virus’ containment and mitigation, which the D.C. metro area, as one of the country’s hotspots, is struggling with. Governor Larry Hogan says the measures we have taken as a state are allowing his administration to look towards plans for easing restrictions and re-opening the state, but he has said that process will not occur overnight. There is also much friction right now between President Trump and the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force and governors as to the timeline for returning America to a state of relative normalcy.

For the time being, though, Maryland residents are still encouraged to remain at home and, when departing the home for essential trips only, wearing a face covering in most instances. Montgomery County law requires face masks for many in-person interactions like purchasing food at grocery stores.