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Harford school board members discuss using virtual classes during inclement weather

Baltimore Sun 11/15/2022 Tony Roberts, Baltimore Sun
Harford County Public Schools are considering a plan to offer virtual learning on snow days and other inclement weather days. © MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF/Baltimore Sun/TNS Harford County Public Schools are considering a plan to offer virtual learning on snow days and other inclement weather days.

The Harford Board of Education is considering a plan to use three asynchronous virtual instruction days in the event of inclement weather during the 2022-23 school year. This type of online learning at home allows students to choose the time they view materials and does not include live instruction.

If approved, this will result in the final possible day of instruction being June 20, 2023 rather than June 23, 2023.

Although the coronavirus pandemic brought many issues to school systems, it has helped schools across the nation develop virtual learning for students. The Maryland State Department of Education opened a pathway for schools to repurpose certain days as virtual days in the 2022-23 school year.

Virtual days would include those designated for inclement weather, professional staff learning, high school graduation, or other reasons.

School systems will have the opportunity to use a maximum of three of the eight inclement weather days as asynchronous virtual learning days.

Carroll, Anne Arundel and Howard county school systems have approved plans for virtual instruction throughout the past couple of months.

On Oct. 24, Harford County Public Schools presented responses to the state board of education inquiries via the MSDE Virtual Day Instruction Plan 2022-23 School Year. Following the presentation, the plan was posted for public comment on the school system’s website through Nov. 7. School officials said 371 comments on the proposed plan were submitted.

On Monday evening, the board gave an overview of the feedback and shared revisions that have been made to the plan based on the feedback. According to Eric Davis, the county schools’ chief of administration, 284 out of 371 comments were in favor of having asynchronous virtual learning plans to cover for inclement weather days.

Pre-kindergarten students will be given a school readiness backpack of supplies with hard copies of critical language arts and math content. Electronic copies of work will be included on the school system’s inclement weather page.

If approved, all resources for elementary grade students will be on the Canvas online platform where students can expect to spend an estimated 20 minutes on each learning activity for their virtual instruction plan.

Canvas would be the home of learning activities for middle school students and high school students as well.

Middle school students whould expect to spend around 20-30 minutes for each class, and high school students whould expect to spend around 30 to 60 minutes for each class. For parents, there would be instructions and guidelines on the school system’s inclement weather page on how students can complete their work on Canvas.

After the presentation, the board voted unanimously to submit an application to the Maryland State Department of Education for plan approval.

The school system also presented the board a revised student attendance policy, which would address mental health absences and makeup work requirements.

The policy ensures that the school system provides resources to any student who uses a mental health absence, said Bernard Hennigan, the county school system’s executive director of student support services. The mental health support was a part of the school system’s safety plan presented during its virtual town hall in July.

Additionally, the policy continues to follow the trend that the state Department of Education set a few years ago when it comes to failing students based on attendance, Hennigan said. If students miss 10% of the school year they might fail the course depending on the situation, Hennigan said.

“We know that students have all different types of circumstances, and we didn’t want to say that because you hit an exact number of absences you have to fail this class,” Hennigan said. “It is up to the teachers discretion. Teachers are not expected to fail a student just based on absences. Performance should be the number one factor there.”

Teacher will also have the power to determine if the student’s absence should be excused, Hennigan said. If the absence is approved, the teacher will have to provide makeup work for the student, Hennigan said.

This policy will be up for comment for 30 days, and then it will be presented to the board for a decision, Hennigan said.

Recognition for service

Four school board members were recognized for their accomplishments as their term ends, including board President Rachel Gauthier and members David Bauer, Sonja Karwacki and Jansen Robinson.

The four received certificates from County Executive Barry Glassman.

“Like boards around the country, you have served on the board during the hardest time to serve on the Board of Education,” said schools Superintendent Sean Bulson. “I am immensely grateful for your service to this community and this board.”

All four members will continue to serve through Dec. 4, Bulson said.

The next school board meeting will be Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m., at which time newly elected board members will officially be sworn into office.

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