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Schools to remain closed for next four weeks

Maryland public schools will remain closed for at least four more weeks, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced during a press conference Wednesday morning, with the possibility they may be closed for longer as the state grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"I'm a hopeful guy, and I would love the thing to be resolved as quickly as possible, but I don't think we can predict what this virus is going to do and you can't put a time frame on saving people's lives," Hogan said. "We're going to make decisions based on the scientists and the facts."

"None of us can say that in four weeks, everything's going to be great and it's going to be safe for all the kids to go back to school. It's somewhat aspirational, and it gives four weeks for us to try to have all the schools prepare," Hogan added.

Hogan noted that the state's efforts to curb the spread of the virus began only 20 days earlier, with the discovery of the first three confirmed cases.

As of Thursday morning, the Maryland Department of Health reported 580 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, with 10 of those in Charles County.

Schools were ordered closed from Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27, following the March 12 discovery of the first identified case of community transmission of the virus.

“The reality is, this crisis is only beginning in our state and across America,” Hogan said. “What we do know is, it's not going to be over in a matter of days or weeks.”

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon broke the news during the governor's press conference that schools will now be closed through April 24.

"We do not make this decision lightly," Salmon said. "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."

Salmon said the Maryland State Department of Education is working with the state's 24 school systems to provide "continuity of learning" to all students, including those with disabilities, and local school systems will be in communication with their communities in the coming days to detail what that entails.

Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly Hill said in a phone interview Thursday that school system staff have been working diligently to identify student technology needs as they move into a new phase of providing instruction to students at home.

"There absolutely are gaps. I think that this pandemic is highlighting the need for high-speed internet access for every family in our community," Hill said. "It is highlighting the inequity between families who have high speed internet access and those who don't. That's something that I hope will be a positive result of everything that we're going through is that government entities and others will work together to solve this problem."

Hill said the school system has been developing both online and print instructional materials for students.

"We want to start providing instruction for all of our students in a way that we never have done before," Hill said. "We are working on how to do that, either through online learning or through paper and pencil packets."

Hill said the school system is preparing fourth quarter learning activities in core content areas — math, English, science and social studies.

"These learning activities will focus on those core areas, and then we hope to layer on, as we get used to providing instruction in a different way, additional coursework," Hill said.

Hill said teachers have been working very hard at connecting with students during the state of emergency.

"They have jumped in and connected with their students, and have reached out through social media or other platforms to keep kids engaged," Hill said. "Our teachers have really stepped up and I'm very, very proud of the work they've done. It's time for us now to standardize the instruction that'll be going forward for the fourth quarter."

Hill commended building services staff, who have thoroughly cleaned and sanitized over 4 million square feet of building space and food services and student services staff who have provided over 5,000 meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — in one day to students.

"We are going to do the best we can in a very brand new situation and there may be bumps as we roll out this new way of learning, but I want to ensure all of our families that we are going to respond and we're going to tweak anything that needs to be tweaked and we are going to be especially mindful of equity issues regarding students who may need additional supports ... We want to ensure that every child's needs are being met," Hill said.

Salmon said that over the next four weeks, the state will consider various avenues to make up for lost school time, including extending school into the summer months.

“We are going to look at all sorts of creative solutions going forward,” Salmon said. “We may look at an extended [school] year … we're trying to get geared up to do the continuity of learning piece first, and then we'll have some time, once we get that down, to see how effective it is, then we can start planning for other kinds of things moving forward.”

Twitter: @JamieACIndyNews

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