ANNAPOLIS — With Maryland colleges being urged to switch to online-only instruction for the remainder of the spring semester amid novel coronavirus fears, K-12 public schools across the state have begun gearing up for a similar directive from State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon.
While Salmon hasn't yet set anything in stone, she said during a news conference Wednesday, March 18, that local school systems have spent the past week of a mandated two-week closure weighing their options and preparing for further closures as the fight against the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continues.
The statewide public schools closure has been in effect since Monday, March 16, and at this point, is scheduled to last until Friday, March 27. Salmon said her department would use the two-week period to "assess the situation," as well as to clean buses and school buildings.
"I’m having a call every other day with all the local superintendents, and they have submitted to me their plans, if we need to have further closures, for continuity of instruction," Salmon said.
The superintendent said she will analyze the school systems' plans for supplemental instruction to "make sure they’re equitable across the state" and to determine what additional state resources some counties might need in order to adjust.
On the Eastern Shore, where the official count of confirmed COVID-19 cases is seven, as of Saturday, March 21 — one each in Talbot, Worcester, Queen Anne's, Somerset and Caroline counties, and two in Wicomico County — school systems are awaiting cues from the state.
Beyond that, it appears Shore school systems either aren't prepared to roll out comprehensive, online-only instructional tools for students — or they aren't yet willing to publicly disclose their plans.
Talbot School Superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith didn't offer specifics regarding a strategy the county is developing in the case that students will need access to online education for a prolonged period.
“We have received no further information regarding school closure extension," Griffith said of the potential for additional state directives concerning school closures. "We have been in contact with the Maryland State Department of Education on a regular basis as they determine next steps and expectations."
Farther south on the Shore, Dorchester County's school system assured its leaders have been "looking over the horizon at what might come next."
Valerie Goff, Dorchester schools communications and community outreach specialist, said in a statement Wednesday, March 18, "We expect clarification to come from the state very soon.”
In a similar stroke of uncertainty, Caroline County Schools Public Relations Coordinator Sandi Barry said localities "do not yet have direction" from the state beyond the two-week closure.
During a March 18 news conference with Gov. Larry Hogan, Salmon said the state is "looking at many different models" and a decision will be made "within the next week or so."
"These two weeks are really giving our school systems time to plan and time to do what they need to do for the duration of this state of emergency," Salmon said. "We’ll be working on those and hopefully implementing some of those plans as soon as next week."
Hogan, during a Thursday, March 19, news conference, underlined Salmon's comments, saying, "Over the two-week period we were going to get input about what we might do after (two weeks) and how we might potentially provide education to kids."
"The decision hasn't been made, but we're working on what we would do in that case, as far as online learning and/or providing tools to kids without access to computers, how we would provide instruction to them," Hogan said.