Questions abound and school leadership is scrambling after the Board of Education updated guidance for the March 15 return to in-person education. We are here to try to provide you with as many clear answers as possible.
Prior to the Feb. 9 Board meeting, students, parents, faculty and admin were under the impression that students who returned to the building beginning March 15 would be sitting on computers in Zoom classes while under the supervision of paraeducators or substitute teachers.
At the Board meeting, however, it was announced that schools would now have to prepare for a variety of instructional models. Given the amount of students at Blake who indicated they want to return to the building (about a third), it is likely that students who return will most frequently experience the simultaneous instructional model in which a teacher teaches to students in the classroom and those remaining in the virtual model at the same time.
However, school leadership is still revising their pre-Feb. 9 plan to fit the Board’s new guidance, so the kind of instruction that students will receive has not yet been determined. Additionally, students will not experience just one instructional model. They could have any combination of classes follow direct (face-to-face), simultaneous (especially in the four core subjects), support (students learning virtually, attending their individual Zoom classes, with a staff supervisor in the room) or virtual models. Department heads have been tasked with talking to teachers about which teachers will be returning to the building and when, looking at the number of students slated to return for in-person instruction in classes under their department and then coming up with a plan for how instruction will be delivered in that department.
Students in technical programs like the Edison program, who are slated for Phase 1.1 and will be returning March 15, will most likely receive direct instruction where they will be working on hands-on labs in dedicated spaces. Most students will not be returning to school March 15. Students who are currently not on track to graduate, students with disabilities and students in technical programs will be welcomed back March 15. Seniors should return no later than April 16 and underclassmen are scheduled to return in the following two weeks.
When students return to school, their access to parts of the school will be severely limited. As most upperclassmen drive themselves to school, they will be arriving through the gym doors and will likely remain in that part of the school. This year, students do not need to purchase parking passes. Underclassmen will be arriving through the main entrance and will be directed to their classes on that side of the building. Some hallways will become one way hallways to avoid contact when students make staggered transitions from class to class.
Masks will be available for students, teachers and bus drivers and new air handling systems have been installed to ensure a clean school environment. Teachers are receiving training on how to keep their classrooms sanitary as well. In another effort to keep the building clean, students will not have access to lockers. Students will be carrying Chromebooks with them to each class, and more Chromebooks have been ordered so each child can have their own. Administration is even looking at getting special PPE for instruments that students will be carrying to and from school. MCPS is working on providing guidelines for the safe exchange of shared materials, like library books.
Returning to school is still optional; students are not forced to go back and can choose to remain in the current virtual instructional model for all of their classes. Students who originally opted to return to school in the fall survey can now request to remain online, and vice versa until Blake reaches its restricted capacity. At that point, students who request to return to the building may be put on a waiting list. Families can make initial decisions about sending their students back into the building until Feb. 26. After that, there will be a schedule change freeze for a few weeks.
Students who return to school will be on A/B Week rotations. Students in the A group will go into the building four days for one week, then attend all classes virtually from home the next. Students in the B group will go into the building for four days the next week, and they will continue to alternate as such. Who comprises Groups A and B will most likely be determined by last name. Wednesdays will remain asynchronous instruction days regardless of whether or not a student chooses to return. Mondays and Thursdays will remain Periods 1-4, and Tuesdays and Fridays will remain 5-8 for students both in-person and online.
Students who choose to go back to school will arrive at the building by 7:45 AM, unless they drive themselves to school or are dropped off. Students who drive or are dropped off need only arrive in time for their first class of the day. A support/advisory period, replacing FSI, will be held from 7:45 AM – 9 AM. Additionally, lunch will become ten minutes shorter. At the end of the day, students will notice their last periods end at 2:30 PM again. These schedule changes have been made to keep with the preexisting transportation schedule. It is uncertain where students will be placed during that time or what support model will be available to them.
Some students will be allowed to have extracurricular activities in-person. The Board is saying choir and band practices can be held in-person, but must be held outside. It is unclear which extracurricular activities will be run in-person at Blake. Students who are in a virtual model will still be able to participate in athletics, which are starting up again in person shortly. Currently, the county does not have plans for competitions.
We understand that you must have an abundance of questions in the wake of the Board’s unexpected decision Feb. 9. We are working to gather as much clarity as possible, and will update you when we receive more information from administration. All this information is subject to change, however, as the teacher’s union issued a response to the Board of Education’s plan that will almost surely lead to further revisions of the Board’s plan.