Based on where the state of Maryland currently is with the governor’s recovery plan, Frederick County Public Schools will likely operate under a hybrid model of in-person and virtual instruction for the 2020-2021 school year.
A draft of the "Frederick County Public Schools’ Plan for Reopening and Advancing Forward" was recently uploaded to the Board of Education’s BoardDocs website and will be presented to the board at its Wednesday meeting.
Various workgroups, which included members from all aspects of the FCPS community including teachers, parents and education support professional employees crafted the plan. The workgroups met throughout the month of June and collected feedback from students and parents.
FCPS outlined three scenarios or “stages” for instruction based on the uncertain circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and guidelines from the state and various health departments.
Stage 1 is a full virtual learning model similar to what was seen this past spring, Stage 2 is a hybrid model and Stage 3 is a traditional reopening of schools with some restrictions in place to account for health and safety concerns.
According to the document, the FCPS workgroups spent the majority of their time planning for a Stage 2 reopening.
In Stage 2, students at both the primary and secondary levels will be divided into two groups based on academic needs, their mode of transportation to school, their course selection and other specialized needs.
The groups, called Cohort A and Cohort B will attend school in-person on different days. Cohort A will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays while Cohort B is engaged in virtual instruction. On Wednesdays, the school buildings will be closed and undergo deep cleaning, while all students participate in virtual instruction.
On Thursdays and Fridays, the model will flip with Cohort B attending school in person and Cohort A learning virtually.
“FCPS believes that the Hybrid Model of instruction is the most robust and supportive instructional model for students if social distancing is required,” the document states.
Families will also be allowed to select a full, five-day virtual instruction option if they do not feel comfortable sending their children to school or if there are familial health considerations that must be accounted for.
For students riding the bus, FCPS plans to allow one student per seat for a total of 22 students per bus. Student arrival and dismissal times will be staggered to prevent large crowds from gathering and buses will be cleaned after each ride.
Drivers and students will be required to wear face coverings while on board.
Students, in general, will be required to wear face coverings or masks in school buildings if social distancing guidelines of six feet of separation cannot be followed.
Students will not have to wear face coverings during outdoor recess or if they have breathing problems or cannot physically remove a covering themselves.
For lunch, both the cafeteria and classrooms will be used. The FCPS Food and Nutrition Services department plans to streamline menu options or serve individually-plated meals to students, although bringing a lunch from home is highly recommended.
In the draft plan, FCPS noted that distance learning models were adjusted based on feedback received from parents and students at the end of the last school year.
“Consistent feedback requested a desire for more teacher instruction versus support sessions. Students wished for more clarity in teacher direction and assignments... families requested a desire for students to be in one digital platform to administer virtual learning,” the plan says.
Based on these responses, the draft plan said all FCPS teachers received professional training on how to use Google Meet this summer and that the Schoology Learning Management System will be used by all staff for distance learning during the 2020-2021 school year.
Grading will also return to normal, instead of the pass/fail method that was used for the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, according to the plan.
“Teachers indicated a reduction of engagement from students particularly at the secondary level and a large majority of students/parents actually opted for the traditional letter grade to earn “credit” for their hard work during distance learning this past spring,” the plan said.
Despite returning to regular grading regulations though, considerations will be made based on each student’s situation.
Student attendance will also be handled differently. Students are expected to be marked “present” if they engage with some sort of school activity during the day.
“The definition for a student being 'present' may look quite different,” the plan said. “There may be barriers which prevent students from completing learning activities on a daily basis, and during standard school hours ... lack of engagement during traditional school hours should not be a determining factor in noting whether or not a student is present or absent for the day.”
Besides the general logistics for how schools will operate come August, the draft plan also includes details on how FCPS will support students of minority groups such as English language learning students, special education students and students experiencing homelessness.
There is also a breakdown of how the school system plans to address mental health needs and support social emotional learning.
“Social Emotional difficulties should be anticipated upon the reopening of schools regardless of format,” the plan said. “A primary focus on building positive relationships with teachers and peers will be the most powerful tool for helping students increase their readiness to learn.”
Other small plans include temporarily barring the use of lockers and cubbies to maintain social distancing and obtaining and installing an additional 1,800 hand sanitizer dispensers throughout schools.
Every student at the secondary level will also be given a device such as a Chromebook, while students at the elementary level will be provided one if needed. Internet hotspots will also continue to be available.
“Connectivity and use of Chromebooks will be the primary vehicle for instruction for the 2020/2021 school year; therefore, FCPS is not planning to create, print and distribute packets on a large scale,” the document said.
The full draft plan will be presented to the board of Education Wednesday. Public feedback of the plan is expected to be collected this month. A finalized version of the plan will be presented to the board in August.
Per the Maryland State Department of Education, FCPS will be required to have their recovery plan finalized and posted to its website by Aug. 14.