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.
After it was announced that Maryland students would be staying at home at least a month longer, St. Mary’s school officials spoke Wednesday about their online learning options.
A 10 a.m. livestreamed school board meeting Wednesday was delayed for 2½ hours due to audio difficulties. As the video was being fixed, Hogan held a press conference at 11 a.m. He and Karen Salmon, state superintendent of Maryland schools, announced not only will the closure extend to April 24 for all Maryland public schools, but the possibility they may be closed for longer as the state grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
St. Mary’s teachers and staff will start teleworking on Monday, and students will not take state standardized tests.
The St. Mary’s school board meeting was back on at 12:30 p.m. and school officials on the agenda gave presentations through a video conference including an item about online instructional resources.
“The one thing to realize is one third of our children live in poverty,” St. Mary’s Superintendent Scott Smith said, adding that even if people have access to internet, their resources require dedicated internet access.
Smith mentioned the possibility to move wireless access to school parking lots, but no promises have been made.
He also mentioned 9,000 laptops with Windows 10 could be handed to kids who do not have their own devices to access the internet. Staff are working to reconfigure them, but Smith said it’s time consuming. They are also looking to utilize Channel 96 and creating printed packets for every grade level.
Smith said during times like this it becomes apparent how well funded a school system is, or needs to be.
Jeff Maher, chief strategic officer, referred to the school system’s main site, smcps.org, where information on the coronavirus is available as well as instructional resources. It’s also where students can access their Clever account, a one-stop shop of all of their instructional resources that aligns with their grade levels. One resource found on Clever is a program called Edgenuity. It provides student-specific courses, video tutorials, notes, workspaces and progress monitors. The teachers have access as well.
“The biggest thing we want everyone to walk away with, these last two weeks, we looked at all platforms and expanded licenses for every single secondary student,” Smith said about the online resources. “That being said, only a handful of teachers have been trained on Edgenuity because they don’t use Edgenuity.”
He said the next phase is to bring in teachers for training in the program “and that may take up to five days.” He added the same will be the case for the program Imagine Learning.
Maryland schools were initially ordered to close from Monday, March 16, through today, Friday, March 27, following the March 12 discovery of the first identified case of community transmission of the virus.
An email from the St. Mary’s public school system was sent March 18 asking parents to respond to a brief survey about internet access. To take the survey, users can copy and paste the link https://tinyurl.com/SMCPSinternet in the browser. Maher said they received about 7,000 responses so far.
Maher said it was “no surprise” that 96.5% who took the online survey said “yes” to having access at home while 3.5% said no. Recognizing that the survey did not reach everyone, they asked survey questions to those picking up free meals at the drive-through lunches being held at four school locations to feed St. Mary’s students. Maher said of the 216 people who were picking up meals, 71.3% said they do have access to internet while 28.7% said they do not. Other survey questions also showed internet was limited for some.
Maureen Montgomery, deputy superintendent, chimed in to say they will be getting more information to staff and the community by the end of this week.
Jamie Anfenson-Comeau contributed to this report.