Now in their sixth week of distance learning, students of Frederick County Public Schools have settled into a new reality of logging online and completing assignments virtually for their teachers.

Superintendent Terry Alban explained, though that this new reality has not come without its own set of challenges and needs.

The school system had to quickly find a balance in the amount of work students were assigned and how much time they should spend on the computer. Families and teachers felt lots of angst and uncertainty.

“In those first couple of weeks there were a lot of parents trying to figure out how to navigate this and then what I was hearing from teachers was just incredible stress because you’re trying to do this and yet you’ve also got your own children who need to do distance learning,” she said.

The pressure seems to have quieted down, Alban said, which she attributed to people settling into routines.

As of May 1, Alban said more than 99 percent of FCPS students have connected to digital learning in some form. Others are completing paper packets, which are picked up regularly from their schools.

“Now, you can connect and you can connect regularly are two different things,” Alban said, which is why FCPS decided to make classes for the fourth academic quarter for this school year, which began on April 14, pass or incomplete.

Instead of receiving a letter grade, students will simply either pass the class or not. Alban said the decision was made to help students who may be struggling with more personal matters during this time.

“We recognize families are under a lot of stress. We don’t know what individual situations may be,” Alban said. “So, we don’t want a child to be penalized or to fail because of circumstances they have no control over.”

High schoolers who are applying to colleges and need letter grades in order to have an accurate GPA can opt-out of the pass or incomplete grading system.

FCPS is also piloting the use of video conferencing in the Tuscarora feeder pattern which Alban said she hopes will help bring back some sense of normalcy since it will allow students to see their friends and teacher.

Besides trying to get students online, Alban said the transition to distance learning has shone a light on some equity issues that exist with some student populations such as English Language Learner (ELL) students.

“Some of their parents, who don’t have facility with the language are going to find it more challenging to support their child than parents who are literate and fluent in English,” Alban said.

Therefore, staff has been working to provide as much additional resources and support to these students as possible.

Navigating the realm of special education has also been difficult. Individualized Education Plans have had to be revised and families have had to meet with special education instructional assistants virtually.

Providing services such as physical and occupational therapy that students would normally receive in school are difficult to deliver remotely, but Alban said they are using a software that allows for tele-therapy so that students can continue to be supported in some way.

Planning for the future

With these systems and changes in place, one of Alban’s biggest priorities is figuring out graduations for the class of 2020.

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) gave local superintendents and school boards the authority to decide how to celebrate their seniors. The only requirement is that any celebration or ceremony is in compliance with the governor’s executive orders.

FCPS formed a committee to examine alternate ways to hold graduations. Some suggested delaying commencement ceremonies until the summer or fall, but Alban said that is difficult for a number of reasons.

One, it is unclear what restrictions on social gatherings will be in place at that time, and two, not all students may be able to attend.

“If you delay ... you have children who go into the military who will be gone who wouldn’t be able to participate or if they’re off to college,” Alban said. “So, there are a lot of different pieces to weigh in ... we’re exploring as many options as possible.”

FCPS staff are also extensively planning for what the school day might look like if students return to buildings in the fall and what extra needs students might have.

“We know we’re going to have to prepare for ... the additional trauma that a lot of our kids may have experienced through this time,” Alban said. “If someone in your family has gotten ill ... loss of jobs ... I think there are a lot of ramifications of this that are going to play out in a variety of ways.”

State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon announced Wednesday that all Maryland public schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year and that reopening of school buildings would most likely occur during stages two or three of the governor’s recovery plan.

MSDE has also published a handbook titled “Maryland Together: Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education” which includes guidance on how public schools will move forward and possible options for reopening, such as having students attend school different days of the week or doing a grade-based phase-in.

Alban said they are planning for multiple scenarios based on what stage of the recovery plan the state is in at the time. FCPS will also be expected to be ready to transition quickly back to distance learning if a second wave of the virus hits in the fall — as some are expecting.

MSDE is still requiring school districts to complete 180 days of instruction, so the district needs to determine what to do about the two weeks in March when students didn’t have classes while FCPS transitioned to virtual learning.

Salmon, however, was recently given authority by the state Board of Education to waive five instructional days for school systems that request it.

If FCPS asks for the waiver, that would leave the school system with five days to make up — one snow day that was used earlier in the year and four days from the closure.

Since the primary elections in Maryland were postponed, Alban said they took advantage of using that day in April for instruction, therefore leaving them with one less day to make up. The four remaining days would be treated like snow days and be tacked on to the end of the year.

FCPS also recently announced that May 22 would be the last day of class for high school seniors.

As the school year winds down, Alban said more than anything, the focus is to continue operating as normally as possible in order to continue serving students.

“Business as usual has to go on even though it’s an unusual situation,” she said.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter:

@katrynajill

(22) comments

Because

Double check that link to someone’s online lesson you posted. Do not need to work your butt off on our IEPs and 504 plans... those disappeared when schools shut down. Now you get a distance plan that works for you but not our kids. I don’t blame any teachers except those who don’t stand up for what is right and best for the kids.

kellyckersh

Clearly, you have no idea what you are talking about, nothing "disappears" just because we are teaching remotely. So, please help yourself to some educational law before you go popping off about things you don't understand or don't have knowledge of. Have a great day!

Because

You are not a FCPS teacher or you would know that we moved from IEPs to distance learning plan. They literally updated my sons IEP with the date they stopped due to COVID 19. Glad wherever you teach is doing better. Hopefully it will change here for the better.

Greg F

It is really simple...do you want a bunch of potential Typhoid Marys in class with your kids? Did you not hear about NY and now Covid is impacting kids horribly more and more? I don’t see classes resuming at the schools until January. We won’t be fully back to work in offices until next summer. The virus is now rapidly mutating to somewhat lesser contagiousness in places and even worse in others. This has to settle out before anybody ventures in to crowded places. It is that simple, like it or not. 1918 didn’t get clears for a couple years. This one is looking much the same, and isn’t helped by the asymptomatic carriers that waive their confederate flags and guns around at Trump’s beck and call.

gabrielshorn2013

I dont believe anyone here is pressuring for schools to open asap FedUp. Far from it. Parents are demanding that they receive the level of online instruction that they were promised.

JaneFlower241

Some of the comments are very interesting- clearly made by individuals who do not have a very broad perspective or knowledge of how the state of MD and our school systems function. Easy to sit back and judge when you can’t see past yourself, your own situation, and understand the intricacies of the big picture. In my opinion , that is the real “embarrassment.”

gabrielshorn2013

Care to elaborate Jane?

Jane Flower 241

I just mean that the school situation is a challenge for everyone- across the nation! So many people seem to be focused on “me, me, me , my kids, my job, etc.” Yes, the situation is and will continue to be inconvenient for everyone. I just wish that more people would understand that decisions are made with the needs of many in mind, not just their particular situation. But it seems like if we are inconvenienced in any way we are quick to make critical and extreme judgements of the entire system.

I’ll stop short of saying “we’re all in this together” 😉 but I guess I’m just a fan of extending grace and thinking of the greater good.

Because

Well you clearly don’t have knowledge of how the school system is working. Washington county and Montgomery county have been using Zoom and other tools. The people on this post who agree are actual parents who want the best for their children given the tools are available to provide it. I don’t pay anything for Zoom meetings. I pay for the instruction I can’t provide and the school isn’t providing because I saw the big picture a long time ago.

gabrielshorn2013

Jane, inconvenience is a couple of snow days in a row, or a school building closed in the middle of a semester, and the students transferred to surrounding schools. This is far past an inconvenience, especially since every student has access to at least a chromebook and internet access to receive distance learning. This was the original promise of distance education for the needs of many that was not kept. There is simply no excuse for what is happening with the failure of such distance learning, when all of the prerequisites were supplied. Every teacher was supposed to be trained on providing distance education using the available tools. Was that done? Who knows. The software provided for use is substandard, especially when Microsoft Teams is provided free of charge. We are being provided substandard service, but still paying the same price. Fortunately, we can afford to provide our child with the additional instruction, but what about those that cannot? Should they and their parents just throw their hands up and say "we're all in this together?" I don't think so.

Because

I pay an educational advocate who is an expert on my son’s learning disability good money to ensure I have proper perspective. I am not a teacher and not qualified to teach my son. You clearly do not have knowledge of how things are functioning. The comments are spot on and Gabriel’s suggestions are spot on. My son’s tutor has been using zoom to build skills since schools closed and FCPS did not come up with a real plan. It is fortunate we can foot the bill to pay someone to pick up where the school system is letting us down. But others can’t and will suffer when there is an alternative that doesn’t comprise the safety of others.

llrowse

Gabriel offers a solution. What can you offer as a viable solution? Why don’t we hear complaints from parents regarding loss of skills over the summer. Do you know that that the first month of school is typically spent getting children back up to speed. Where are the complaints, and calls for the elimination of summer break? Sending children back to school right now would be irresponsible. Would you be willing to send your child to school during the summer months if it becomes possible? Would you really?

gabrielshorn2013

Agreed Ilrowse. We have two issues here. The first is acquiring new skills, and the second maintenance of those skills once acquired. In the latter case, it can be done by rereading some of your previous assignments and notes. It keeps the association of facts fresh. I insist my kids do just that over the summer for a couple of hours a week just to maintain that knowledge. A lot of the time it is "use it or lose it". Periodic review prevents that, and further ingrains that knowledge with the student. I thoroughly agree with your assessment of the "summertime slide", and also agree that parents should keep their kids minds stimulated to retain that knowledge.

The more difficult issue is acquisition of new knowledge. That is where the classroom setting, either in-person, or online but interactive comes in. It is through the interactions with teachers that the knowledge is gained. The ability to interact real-time with a teacher can clarify an otherwise muddled understanding of a subject, and is why teachers are a valuable asset. With the proper use of either Microsoft Teams or Zoom simulating a classroom setting, a teacher can actually see each student's facial expression and attentiveness, and zoom in on the student that may be struggling. They can even write an individual private note to that student during instruction that nobody else will see. It's pretty simple actually, once you get used to it. In our online meetings everyone can see everyone else, so there are no distractions. The meeting organizer holds the meeting controls. There is an automatic sign-in log generated for each meeting that tracks when someone checked in and out. So if teachers adopted such a program, including PowerPoint slides, videos, or other desktop software, it is just like writing on the blackboard (showing my age. It is now a whiteboard), it is really no different than standing in front of the class, except they see the teacher on a desktop, laptop, or Chromebook.

llrowse

Gabriel nailed it!!

vodalone

The home program is a joke. I can tell my elem. school aged child is not progressing as he should, might even be regressing based on his ability first half of the year when he was in school.

Susan Murray

My ADHD student has gotten no support, even with a 504 plan in place. Contacted the school as she is struggling with distance learning and after a week was offered a session with the school therapist.

butterflygirl

Did you take advantage of it ?

DickD

There's no good answer for not having a regular class room. Many parents cannot help due to work commitments or inability to understand the child's needs. How we ever make this up is still a mystery.

gabrielshorn2013

Have to agree Dick. Distance learning is far from adequate currently. My MHS senior is essentially teaching themselves, and is terribly frustrated. Read the book and fill out worksheets. That's it. They are worried about going to college next year "flat" because of inadequate instruction. Meanwhile I participate in international meetings with sometimes dozens of participants in multiple time zones around the world that require interaction and participation, using nothing more than my laptop, a headset, and Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Adequate tools for real time interactive classroom instruction are readily available.

Because

Completely agree with the comments. Other districts are using Zoom, google, etc to adapt. FCPS is an embarrassment at this point. Kids are falling behind in general and most likely in comparison with other areas that are actually putting forth some effort and using the technology available that gives the kids a meaningful learning experience. I can’t believe they are still using Schoology.

kellyckersh

Oh hi! Teacher for over 25 years AND a parent over here. I would have responded earlier but I was up until midnight on a Friday making sure my parents got the Mother's Day power point their children made for them online and double checking a lesson on reteaching a skill my kids didn't seem to get. Some of the comments on this post..ugh! "Meaningful? Actually putting effort? Kids are falling behind compared to other areas? " Wow, just wow. So for the record all of you on your omniscient, high hill - the teachers, admin., and basically all of FCPS, are working their butts off for all of our/your children. We are working on IEPs, 504 plans, behavior plans, and regular lesson plans all while navigating this unknown territory. Some amazing things are happening and your teachers/staff are finding innovative ways to reach their students. While we may not be "zooming internationally", have no fear. Your tax dollars are hard at work. Are we experts? No. Is it perfect? Far from it. But we are working, and working hard.

llrowse

kellyckersh I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m tired of hearing people complain about FCPS. If you can do better, teach your child at home. But wait........

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