After failing to vote in early October on a plan to reopen schools, the Frederick County Board of Education will once again discuss how to move forward during its meeting on Wednesday.
Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Alban said during a recent joint meeting with the county’s state delegates the focus now is to implement a hybrid model for all grade levels for the second semester, which starts on Jan. 28.
The board previously considered implementing the hybrid model earlier in the school year for a few select grades, but related motions failed to get enough votes.
A hybrid model means students would split their week between virtual learning at home and attending class in-person. Students would most likely be split into groups and be assigned days when they would attend class in-person.
It wasn't immediately clear if the board will put forth a motion Wednesday to vote on reopening schools; the item is currently on the agenda for discussion only.
Board President Brad Young recently said he would like to see a vote happen. During last week’s joint meeting, Young mentioned there are deadlines that have to be met on decisions regarding "Return to Play" and how school sports will operate. In order to meet the deadlines, he would like to see the board move forward and make a decision.
“That [decision] has to be made soon because [sports] starts in December, and personally my view is that we need to vote on returning students to school first and then on the sports, and that’s why I would like to vote on them both next week,” he said last week.
The idea has been floated, however, to wait to make a decision until the winners of this year’s Board of Education election take their seats in December. With where the vote count stands now, it is likely the board will have three new members, but the race remained too close to call as of Monday.
Young did not seem interested in waiting to take a vote until the new members are in place.
“My intention is to ask for a vote, but we will see how it goes ... if we don’t get anywhere, we will do it when the new board members take their seat, but we’ve got to do something,” he said.
Working under the idea that a hybrid model will be implemented in January, FCPS staff have updated reopening plan documents with more details pertaining to questions posed by board members during their last discussion.
For example, there is now a published list of instructional materials that should be quarantined for at least six days before being allowed to recirculate among students and staff. Items including math manipulatives, sheet music and microscopes are part of the list.
Also updated are details on enhancements that will be made to school facilities regarding airflow.
According to the FCPS Logistical Planning Guide for Reopening Schools, which has been published on the BoardDocs website, maintenance teams will modify ventilation schedules to bring more outside air into buildings starting at least two hours prior to staff arrival.
Regarding student movement, schools where students typically move from classroom to classroom will establish staggered times for hallway transitions and will attempt to create one-way movement on stairwells.
The document also states that all students will be offered a grab-and-go breakfast upon arrival, and for lunch, students will either sit at assigned seats in the cafeteria or consume their lunches in their classroom.
Lockers and elementary school cubbies will not be used in order to maintain social distancing. Students will have assigned workstations where they will place their belongings.
One aspect of a hybrid model that still seems to be unclear is what the workload will be for teachers and how their daily schedules will be structured.
During previous discussions, there has been talk of concurrent teaching — the idea that teachers would teach in-person and virtual students at the same time for portions of the day. FCPS staff previously said planning time for teachers would be increased by 30 percent in order to help with the new requirement.
Alban said via email that concurrent teaching will remain a part of the hybrid plan as long as the Maryland State Department of Education continues to require 3.5 hours of synchronous learning per student per day.
But board members have seemed resistant to this idea.
"I think we're asking [teachers] with this concurrent learning plan to be super-humans," board member Rae Gallagher said during the Oct. 7 meeting.
As the board prepares to meet and hold a discussion on Wednesday, it is receiving pressure from both community members and local government officials to make a final decision. If board members do hold a vote and the plan passes, it will be one of the first major moves forward since the pandemic began in March regarding the reopening of schools.