Frederick County elementary schools will bring in students four days a week beginning May 10.
The announcement came Tuesday with an updated agreement signed between the Frederick County Board of Education, Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA), Frederick Association of School Support Employees (FASSE) and Frederick County Administrative and Supervisory Association (FCASA).
A Frederick County Public Schools statement said the new memorandum of understanding (MOU) will provide additional in-person learning opportunities for elementary students when possible while still incorporating guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The updated MOU came about after board members received pushback from the unions after the board initially supported a four-day model in early April. The unions said the board had violated the agreement that was in place. The board rescinded its original decision April 21 and resumed negotiations with union leaders.
Many of the same health and safety provisions and procedures for employees are included in the updated MOU. However, it now stipulates that elementary school principals begin developing plans to bring in the maximum number of students possible for four days a week of in-person instruction. The MOU states that the new learning model will begin May 10, and schools are expected to be fully transitioned by May 17. The last day of school for the 2020-2021 school year is June 17.
In an email, Superintendent Terry Alban said administrators have already been thinking about options for their schools.
"The biggest logistical challenges will be determining if there is enough room in the classroom; identifying locations for lunch and whether or not they need to use desks or tables; ensuring appropriate coverage for additional spaces that are being used," she said.
Social distancing at the elementary level will be reduced to three feet—per CDC guidance—when students are masked. During meal times or when students are unmasked, six feet must be maintained.
The updated agreement states that each school will attempt to make the transition without changes to teacher and classroom assignments for students if possible. Additionally, to aid in the transition, the agreement allows each elementary school to designate two upcoming Wednesdays as asynchronous learning days. Students will learn independently at home on those designated dates. Families will be notified by their individual schools regarding the asynchronous days.
The number of students that each elementary school will be able to bring in will be based on available space and how many families have expressed interest.
When asked what would happen if a school does not have enough space to accommodate every student who wishes to come in, Alban said central office staff have been "working on a matrix to guide decisions and provide consistency across the district. Principals will work with individual families to identify options."
Bus transportation has also been modified at the elementary level with the updated MOU. Each bus will now allow up to 22 students and will provide additional spacing with an empty seat around drivers and assistants. Car ridership is being encouraged by FCPS as space on buses will be limited.
The updated MOU also states that FCPS human resources will recruit additional temporary staff to provide coverage in school buildings during breakfast and lunch. Central office staff may also be used to help with coverage.
Families were surveyed about their desire for a four-day model in early April. According to Alban, a majority of students who currently attend school in person will transition to four days, although families may remain in a two-day model if they wish. There are also some students who are currently all virtual who will come in for four days, Alban said. Overall, about 70 percent of FCPS students will be accessing some form of in-person instruction.
Missy Dirks, president of FCTA, said the updated agreement meets the association's goals.
"To always lead with safety first, it does keep in place the health and safety guidelines by the CDC but doesn’t go further than that," she told the News-Post. "It also provides some of the logistical support that is needed to make this change happen. Time for [staff] to make necessary changes and notifications for families."
Amy Schwiegerath, president of FCASA had a similar statement.
"There are many facets to having students in our buildings...the vision of our Board of Education coupled with the support of our strong central office leadership has allowed to implement a smooth and equitable transition for every student," she said in an email.
Ideally, there would be more time to plan for the transition, Dirks said, and she expects many schools will take up to May 17 to fully implement the new model.
The associations compromised on the prep time though due to the limited amount of time left in the school year, she said.
Dirks also reiterated that FCTA was never opposed to bringing in students four days a week. That's already happening in many schools, she said.
"It’s been about the logistics and the workload and the time to actually accomplish it safely and still adhering to CDC guidelines ... we wanted to make sure it happened in a healthy and safe manner and in a manner that didn’t blatantly violate our contract," Dirks said.
Board president Jay Mason said in an email board members are happy there will be more in-person learning opportunities for students and that he is glad a collaborative approach was taken to achieve the goal.
However, Mason said he was worried that such a sudden change could be difficult for some.
"Our elementary schools are very different, so there will be some that make the transition easily. Recently, I have talked to enough principals to know the change will take some time planning, and there may not be enough time," Mason said. "I know they will make it work because that is the mentality of educators."
He asked parents and students to work collaboratively with their schools over the next week and said he is looking forward to a sense of normalcy for the next school year.