The Maryland Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday for the state’s public schools to begin in-person instruction for five days a week starting this fall.
During this school year, about 512,000 of the 882,000 Maryland students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade continue to receive online instruction with their teachers and other staff from home.
“It may be a very long time before we know the true impact of the pandemic on public education,” said state Superintendent Karen Salmon. “The more education we provide, the better health outcomes we experience as adults.”
The resolution notes that Black and Latino students and those with disabilities “have fallen further behind other groups of students.” Additionally, students suffered from social-emotional loss such as stress, anxiety and loneliness during online instruction.
The decision is also partly based on the state health department reporting 1.8 million people fully vaccinated. The positivity rate, or the percentage of positive results among all coronavirus tests, sits at 4%, below the state’s threshold of 5%.
Gov. Larry Hogan, who pushed for all schools to conduct some form of in-person instruction by March 1, approved of the school board’s decision, saying the state allocated $1.2 billion for teacher vaccinations and other resources to reopen schools.
“Families and students deserve certainty that all school systems will return to full in-person learning,” the Republican governor said in a statement. “To address the academic and emotional toll of prolonged online instruction, today’s vote is an important step toward getting things back to normal.”
State education records show five school systems have less than 40% of students in a school building — Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Charles, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
About 38% of Baltimore County high school students are at their respective schools.
Montgomery County recorded the lowest percentage of students in schools at 19%, according to the state. However, the state’s largest jurisdiction also accounts for the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at 69,528.
The majority-Black jurisdiction of Prince George’s County has about 34% of students participating in the hybrid model, attending schools two days a week. The county continues to lead the state in coronavirus cases with more than 82,000.
School boards from those two jurisdictions are among those that haven’t reached a decision on reopening plans for the 2021-22 school year.
“I kind of figured [state officials] would have kids back in the school by then,” said Prince George’s school board member Belinda Queen. “I got my granddaughter here and she wants to go back to school. Parents were skeptical and we didn’t want to send them back.”
As for the resolution, state education board member Rachel McCusker asked if the state remains in a state of emergency and whether the board could revisit the fall decision if COVID-19 data worsens in July.
“If the situation worsens and the problem grows instead of diminishes, then we would have to go back and look at it because … we will do this safely,” said board President Clarence Crawford. “I would imagine the CDC guidance and our health department guidance would be adjusted along those lines.”