At Middletown High School on Friday morning, the buzzers continued to sound, marking the start and end of classes that would never happen.
Instead, a group of teachers and administrators worked at a table outside the school’s entrance, distributing computers and other equipment to help students get ready for distance learning set to begin for Frederick County Public Schools on Monday.
The COVID-19 pandemic has kept schools closed for two weeks. And on Thursday, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that school buildings in Maryland will remain closed through April 24.
Distance learning is going to be:
Rows of vehicles lined the school’s parking lot, as parents waited to pick up Chromebook laptop computers and devices that could create internet hot spots, allowing students to access their remote lessons.
Staff volunteers greeted the people in each vehicle as they pulled up in front of the school, writing down each student’s name and checking how many devices were needed. Each device was tied to a student’s school ID number to track where the equipment was going.
A similar scene unfolded at Brunswick High School, with a line of cars that snaked through the parking lot almost to the entrance.
The staff handling the distribution were all volunteers, said Edward Gardner, FCPS’s director of technology.
“They all willingly came in to do this for the community,” he said.
The school system prepared 3,000 Chromebooks and 1,000 hot spots countywide, he said.
FCPS had to buy the new hot spots, but the Chromebooks had been collected from elementary schools across the county.
Secondary students already have Chromebooks, and each elementary school class has about 10 that the students share, Gardner said.
At Gov. Thomas Johnson and Frederick high schools, procedures were slightly different. Hundreds of people lined up outside each school’s entrance before receiving their laptops in the main area.
Many had been waiting for hours, including Gabriel Patino, of Frederick. Patino, who has a son in second grade at Spring Ridge Elementary and a daughter in sixth grade at Thomas Johnson Middle, said he actually went to Oakdale High School first, and waited there for two hours.
The school, however, ran out of Chromebooks, so he went over to TJ to get a laptop.
“We have to be ready and have a plan to react to these kind of events instead of having a reaction to something that just happened,” Patino said of the situation Friday.
Dan Lippy, principal of Thomas Johnson High School, said as of Friday morning, about 240 tickets had been handed out for Chromebooks. School officials had been handing those tickets out to parents, and 800 were available at the school, Lippy said.
Lippy said staff were working through the glitches of implementing the new system, which included checking student and parent IDs when they were in the building, and cleaning the laptops before handing them to parents.
He understood people’s frustration as they waited in line, but asked for their patience as the school district was rolling out a brand-new system.
“The scariest part about this right now is we’re in the unknown,” Lippy said. “Everybody is a little frustrated. ... The more we can get back to a normal routine, the better.”
The last two weeks without school have been “a learning curve” for many parents, including Chelsey Lowery. Lowery waited in her car Friday at Middletown High to get Chromebooks for her son and daughter, twin fourth-graders at Myersville Elementary.
They’ve been doing some science projects and learning basic life skills around the house, to try to keep the kids occupied and learning, Lowery said.
But they’ve missed their friends, their classes and their routine, she said.
Some were disappointed at the process Friday, including some parents at Thomas Johnson, who said picking up the Chromebooks by appointment would have been better than waiting in line.
And Madelyn Hayward, who has three children — one each at Lincoln Elementary, West Frederick Middle and Frederick High — said she was disappointed at the lack of social distancing.
“Why are we standing in large crowds when we shouldn’t be?” Hayward said, alluding to orders by Gov. Larry Hogan and the White House. “I just think we could be doing this way better.”
She said she eventually stepped out of line once she learned a friend would lend her a spare Chromebook.
Some were more understanding, including Giselly Jimenez, who has children in fifth and eighth grade at Monocacy elementary and middle schools. She said people should exercise patience as school staff work through unprecedented times.
But she also understood what some other parents might be experiencing.
“I’m lucky my kids are old enough to fend for themselves,” Jimenez said. “I can’t imagine the parents that have usually had to have a baby sitter, or can’t afford to pay the extra hours for baby-sitting now that kids aren’t in school, so I’m sure that it’s been a lot tougher on them.”
At Middletown High School, Angela Baker said she arrived shortly after 9 a.m., and called the sheriff’s office to see if someone could come out to help with traffic.
Traffic around the town’s cluster of schools can be difficult on regular school days, and you could see a similar situation Friday, she said. But the officers got everyone organized in about 10 minutes.
As an instructional assistant with FCPS, Baker said the time since schools closed has been filled with trying to find things for her fifth- and sixth-graders to do.
Her daughter was working on an art project, sending her pictures as she waited.
“[It’s] just taking that extra step as a parent, saying, let’s find something to do,” she said.
Lynsey Romanek, a social worker at Brunswick High School, went from car to car on Friday, checking in with parents and seeing what technology they needed.
A Brunswick graduate, she had run into several of her former classmates waiting in line, she said.
While working from home, she’d kept in touch with students and families during the closure, she said.
But it was nice to be out and doing something, she said.
“I’m glad to have reported to work today,” she said.