ANNAPOLIS — As an initial two-week closure of Maryland public schools neared its March 27 end, State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon announced an additional four-week shutdown to last through April 24 in response to the spreading novel coronavirus.
The decision was announced during a press conference Wednesday, March 25, at the Maryland State House in Annapolis and was made by the State Board of Education after “lengthy discussions” with Maryland health experts, Salmon said.
“We do not make this decision lightly. However, with the challenges facing our state and our country, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our school communities and the community at large,” the superintendent said.
Salmon acknowledged it’s “too soon” to definitively say when schools will reopen given the fast-changing circumstances surrounding the virus’s spread. She said the state “will continue to reassess the situation as we move forward.”
The Maryland State Department of Education’s immediate focus, Salmon said, is fine-tuning local school systems’ educational plans and ensuring each jurisdiction has equal access to resources they might need during the prolonged closure.
“My staff at (MSDE) has been reviewing the (local superintendents’) plans to determine what support and resources the state can provide where needed,” she said. “More information will become available in the coming days as we work collaboratively on a statewide plan that maintains equitable standards and expectations for students.”
Salmon said local school systems are responsible for communicating with their individual communities as they move forward with implementing their plans.
Talbot County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kelly Griffith, in a summary of Wednesday’s announcement distributed internally to Talbot schools’ Emergency Operations Committee, said her team “has been preparing for this eventuality.”
“Our staff is confident we can provide continuity of learning for all students in TCPS now that we are able to engage our teachers in the process,” Griffith said. “We will solidify these plans to ensure that our expectations are aligned with the Maryland State Department of Education’s guidance, and will begin to share our refined plan for this extended school closure with our families and staff next week.”
Debbie Gardner, TCPS public relations coordinator, said Talbot schools already have an operational online learning management system and a device for every K-12 student to use.
“From that standpoint, we are very well equipped,” Gardner said — though, she admitted, being able to effectively continue educating students across the county is “a matter of addressing the (internet) access needs” that many have.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Steve Wilson, TCPS director of technology, said he’s working toward patching internet access holes countywide.
“We are exploring strategies to improve internet access for students who do not currently have adequate internet at their homes or do not have it all,” Wilson said.
As for the possibility of an extended school year, when Salmon was asked whether summer school is on the table for students to make up lost educational time, she said the state is “going to look at all kinds of creative solutions going forward.”
“We may look at an extended year, but we’re trying to get geared up to do the continuity of learning piece first, and then we’ll have some time,” the state superintendent said. “Once we get that down and understand how effective that is, then we can start planning for other kinds of things we might need to do.”
Of the statewide extended school closure Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday, “I know how incredibly difficult and confusing this last couple of weeks have been” for educators, students and parents.
“Teachers want to know when they’ll be able to get back to their lessons and when they’ll see their students again. Parents are concerned about how their kids will be able to continue to learn, how they’re going to be able to handle childcare. And the students want to know when they’ll be able to get back to their normal lives and when they can see their friends and their classmates again,” Hogan said.
The governor said people are looking for certainty, “but the truth is, we simply don’t know yet how bad it’s going to get, how long it’s going to last, or how successful these social distancing actions are going to be in flattening the curve.”
“I just want all of you to know that there’s nothing more important to us than your health and wellbeing and your education,” he said.