Maryland public schools Superintendent Karen Salmon, right, announces school systems will have the flexibility to begin the 2020-21 school year either virtually, or in-person. Salmon spoke at a press conference July 22 at the State House in Annapolis. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon announced Wednesday the state’s 24 school systems will have the “flexibility” on when and how to begin the 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Depending on conditions and locality, Salmon said school systems may be more restrictive than the state’s education recovery plan.
“Our job at the state department is to help systems succeed and keep staff and students safe, regardless of which path they choose,” she said during a press conference at the State House in Annapolis alongside Gov. Larry Hogan. “Within the framework of local control, the state will set a series of guardrails for school systems.”
No matter how schools open, they must adhere to guidelines prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of those include washing hands, social distancing and face coverings for staff and students “particularly when physical distancing is not possible.”
To help with the digital divide amongst students with limited to no technology, the state will provide $100 million for Wi-Fi access and devices. Another $100 million will go toward tutoring to help students who have fell behind since schools closed for in-person instruction March 16.
As schools continue to participate in summer school sessions and enrichment learning programs, Salmon said nine school systems have already decided to begin the school year to conduct virtual and online learning that include Prince George’s, Charles, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties.
Officials in Frederick County continue to work on a reopening plan, but a parent advisory group supports a hybrid model where students would attend class twice a week and virtual learning three times a week.
Prince George’s schools CEO Monica Goldson may release an update on the district’s plans this week. The majority Black jurisdiction continues to lead the state with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases with 21,418.
Overall, the state of Maryland has slightly more than 80,000 confirmed cases with one million tests conducted.
Salmon stressed schools must also rely on state and local health officials to determine when schools could bring students back to the classroom.
“The reopening of schools is a deeply personal issue,” she said. “What happens in the weeks ahead is largely depending upon each of us.”
Cheryl Bost, president of the state education association and a Baltimore County elementary teacher, said in a statement the hope would be for more school systems to participate in virtual learning for safety reasons.
“Virtual learning is not a perfect solution, but it’s the safest and focusing on just one mode of education enables educators to direct their total attention to making it more rigorous and equitable,” she said. “We must do all we can to get the virus under control so that we can safely return to in-person learning, which we know is most beneficial to our students over the long-term.”

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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