Board of Education members heard from six Frederick County Public Schools principals on Wednesday — just six days before in-person learning is set to begin — about how planning for the hybrid model was going at their individual schools.
The principals answered questions from the board and provided details about various topics including cleaning protocols, personnel protective equipment (PPE), arrival and dismissal strategies and meal time plans.
School leaders have been working with central office employees for weeks to prepare for the return to students, said Jamie Aliveto, executive director of System Accountability and School Administration. A week-by-week project plan was developed and principals were responsible for completing key tasks each week. Central office employees have also visited every school in the district to make sure that plans and protocols are being implemented correctly, Aliveto said.
In addition to making sure each school has plenty of PPE for both students and staff, school principals shared how each of their schools are handling cleaning and disinfecting.
Megan Stein, principal of Ballenger Creek Elementary School, said she has worked with her school's custodians to develop strategic cleaning schedules that allow custodians to come into the building throughout the day and clean highly-touched surfaces.
Michael Concepcion, principal of the Career and Technology Center, said they have come up with a method for alerting custodians where to clean.
"Whenever you go into a room, when you come out, there is a sheet you can fill out of maybe where you were sitting at a chair or a desk or if you touched the doorknob or whatever, that way you check that off...and our custodians really appreciate that because what it does is identify what areas specifically need to be cleaned," he said.
Schools throughout the county have developed unique plans for arrivals and dismissals based on their own building layout. And at the high school level, hallway class transitions are being allowed.
For Oakdale High School, class transitions will remain mostly the same, said principal Lisa Smith, with students allotted five minutes between class periods. However, students have been encouraged to not linger in the halls and get from one point to the next as quickly as possible, she said.
Meal plans are also unique to each school. Ballenger Creek Elementary will be utilizing the cafeteria with students in the same grade level eating together at socially distant desks, said Stein. And for bathroom breaks, Ballenger Creek Middle School is utilizing hallway monitors and electronic passes to keep track of how many students are out of class at any given time, said principal Jay Schill.
But there will be a learning curve, he said, and staff is prepared for that.
"It will be like a first week of school for everybody where we're allowing teachers and students time to learn the systems again and ask questions," Schill said.
When asked if teachers would be responsible for breakfast or lunch duty if students are eating in classrooms, Aliveto said there is the expectation that teachers will take on this extra responsibility. Due to the high risk of being around unmasked students during these times, teachers will have access to double the PPE, as outlined in the recently agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between FCPS and the three main employee unions.
On the instructional side, elementary administrators have been working to collect and create bags of materials for each individual student who will be returning to buildings. These bags will have necessary items for students to participate in classes without having to share. For example, Stein explained that student bags for physical education will have a jump rope and a ball whereas a bag for music class might have disposable drum sticks.
Materials are expected to be ready by the time students arrive at buildings on Feb. 16, but it is unlikely teachers will have everything that was promised to them to help with concurrent teaching.
Aliveto confirmed that not every school-based teacher who wanted one will have a Bluetooth headset by the scheduled start of the hybrid model next week.
"I know that's not an answer anyone wants to hear. Ultimately, I would love to be able to say to you everything is going to be here next week, [but] I don't have a lot of control over the companies and the shipping and product distribution. But I would give great praise...to the folks who have been working on this for two months to try and expedite this," she said.
Regardless of the lack of equipment, Aliveto assured board members and residents watching that the quality of education for those at home would not be affected.
"For anyone who is remaining virtual, we will still have a very strong instructional model. It's not going to suffer, it's just going to be different. You can do the same types of pedagogy in different ways," she said.
Board member Liz Barrett asked how principals planned for families who did not answer the survey regarding which learning model they would prefer.
Monocacy Middle School Principal Reginald Gunter said about half of the families at his school responded to the initial survey. Since then, staff have worked to contact each family individually and speak with them about their preference. For the families they have yet to hear from, Gunter said staff have assumed those students will attend school in-person in order to plan for spacing as accurately as possible.
FCPS Superintendent Terry Alban said at the end of the presentation that beginning the hybrid model is an immense collaborative effort. She also spoke to teachers directly and encouraged them to reach out to their supervisors if they didn't feel like they had the necessary equipment or protections.
"If a teacher feels like, wait a minute, I don't see that happening in my classroom, we ask that they go to their administrator so that it can be resolved and the issue can be addressed... You have an instructional director that you can reach out to as well or your association rep," Alban said. "We do want to all work together to make this work for everyone and that was a commitment we all made as we signed the MOU."
It is still possible Alban could decide to delay the hybrid model due to health metrics, but as of Wednesday night, hybrid learning was scheduled to start Feb. 16.