HCPSS Plans Fully Online Start for 2020-2021 School Year

Tue, 07/21/2020 - 9:37am
Dear HCPSS Community: 
During its meeting today, the Howard County Board of Education approved a fully virtual first semester for the 2020-2021 school year, which begins Tuesday, September 8 and ends on Thursday, January 28, 2021. Staff will finalize and submit the HCPSS plan to the Maryland State Department of Education for approval. Final plans are due to MSDE by August 14. 
Fall planning continues to be grounded in equity and guided by three primary priorities: 
  1. Safety and well-being for students and staff 

  2. High-quality instruction for all students 

  3. Resource availability, including funding

I provided detailed context for each decision point during my preliminary remarks at the outset of the meeting, and additional detail is provided in the meeting presentation. Following is an overview of the Board’s decisions, applicable only for the 2020-2021 school year.
Begin School Year Virtually
  • We will begin the school year in a fully virtual format through the first academic semester, which begins on Tuesday, September 8 and ends on Thursday, January 28, 2021. 

Instructional Model
  • The virtual instructional model will be significantly more rigorous than the spring continuity of learning program. Students in all levels will engage in four days of teacher-led synchronous (live) instruction each week, and complete asynchronous assignments on the fifth day.

  • In addition to core classes, related arts at the elementary level, and sectionals and GT seminars at middle school level, will consist of live, teacher-led virtual instruction. 

  • Dedicated times will be included in the daily schedule when students may receive additional support and access meal distribution sites.

  • Sample elementary, middle and high school schedules are included in the July 16 fall reopening presentation. The schedules will be refined as our planning continues, and finalized schedules will be provided prior to the start of school.  

Re-evaluate for Second Semester
  • Staff will prepare a detailed and fully vetted hybrid model for the Board’s consideration in re-evaluating the fully virtual decision for the second semester. Staff will present the hybrid model at a future Board meeting. 

The Board’s decisions today build on those made during the July 9 Board meeting, which include:
  • A 2020-2021 calendar modification, delaying the first student day to Tuesday, September 8.

  • A modified 4x4 semester schedule for middle and high school, where students have four, teacher-led courses each semester, for a total of eight courses during the year.

  • The purchase of 6,500 additional Chromebooks to support equitable access to online instruction.

The additional Chromebooks will be distributed to support a 1:1 student-device ratio in grades Pre-K–8, with the remaining devices distributed to high school students based on need. Students who have already been provided with a Chromebook, including those enrolled in high school, will be permitted to continue using those devices during the 2020-2021 school year. Additionally, we will work with families to resolve connectivity issues. 
Based on the Board’s decisions, staff are preparing professional learning and other supports for teachers in the active delivery of virtual instruction, and other preparations to support the delivery of rigorous instruction that, while online, more closely resembles the instruction that has typically been provided in our classrooms. In early August, we will have additional details to share with families, including schedules, special education services, supports for English language learners and other special needs, meal services, and other aspects of our fall learning model.
While the majority of families and staff responding to our surveys expressed significant concern about returning to classrooms prematurely, many others expressed a preference for an earlier return to in-person learning, and I fully understand and empathize with the desire to return to a sense of normalcy as soon as possible. At the same time, our primary concern must be safeguarding the health of all of our staff and children, and the data and health experts’ guidance do not sanction the safe physical return to schools at this time. We will continue to closely monitor the status of COVID-19 and will continue to prioritize safety, operations and instruction, and consider parental choice and staff workload.
I encourage you to visit the HCPSS website, where we will continue to provide additional details as they become available to help support families and staff in preparation for the school year. 
Thank you again for your continued engagement, support and patience as we move forward through the planning process.
Michael J. Martirano, Ed.D.