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Extended School Closure

April 17th, 2020

The following update was sent to the HCPSS community by Superintendent Michael Martirano on April 17, 2020:

State Superintendent of schools Karen Salmon just announced that all Maryland schools will remain closed through Friday, May 15. We anticipated this extension and I want to assure our families and staff that no matter the end date of the closure, we are well positioned to continue our continuity of learning plan as long as it is needed.

I dropped into several virtual classrooms and it was great to see students and staff interacting. Next Monday, April 20, middle and elementary school teachers will welcome students to their virtual classrooms as they transition from teacher-supported learning to teacher-led learning. We realize that parents have been receiving many messages during this transition to formal teacher-led instruction. We appreciate your patience as educators strive to provide all of the information needed to ensure success with this new instructional model.

I know that many parents have questions about assessments, graduation, grading, field trips and transitions. Please know that as we continue to support our educators with distance learning we are also working to address many of these questions. While we must await guidance from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) regarding some items, HCPSS staff is working through issues such as field trips, summer school, graduations and other items that we may be able to make decisions on locally. I want to share the latest available information on several questions that everyone is anxious to have resolved.

Assessments. Maryland received approval to waive federal 2019–2020 Assessment and Accountability Requirements, thus HCPSS will not administer the MCAP English language, mathematics, science and social studies assessments, the American Government high school assessment or the Maryland School Survey for this school year. On Tuesday, the State Board of Education additionally waived the requirement for this year’s high school seniors to pass assessments for Algebra I, English 10, and American Government or to participate in the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment (MISA).

Graduations. We have been in contact with Merriweather Post Pavilion to discuss alternative plans and a team of HCPSS staff members have been meeting with high seniors from all high schools and the Homewood Center to discuss potential alternative celebrations for our seniors. More information will be communicated as decisions are made.

4th Quarter Grading. Last night, the Board approved changes to quarter 4 grading. For the 2019–2020 school year, quarter 4 grades of “pass” or “incomplete” would be assigned, with students completing at least 50% of quarter 4 assignments earning a pass. Students will have an opportunity to make up missing work. Teachers will receive further guidance regarding the implementation of these emergency grading protocols. Additional information is provided online.

Food Distribution. I want to give thanks to Food and Nutrition Services staff who have worked so hard to provide essential nutrition to children during the school closure. HCPSS has already provided over 345,000 free meals since meal distribution began on March 17. This week we opened an additional food distribution site at Hollifield Station Elementary School, bringing us to a total of 14 meal sites throughout our county. I want to emphasize that a student does not need to be present to receive meals; a parent or guardian may pick up meals for their children.

Student Technology. Our Information Technology and Logistics teams are equally deserving of recognition. On Monday, several staff came in on their scheduled day off to package and prepare Chromebooks to be mailed to families for distance learning at home, and staff continue to work to ensure everyone who needs a device receives it in a timely fashion. If delivery delays do occur, teachers will be informed and will be flexible with students during the initial days without a device. Families who did not complete our student technology survey but require technology access, or have a greater need than anticipated, can still request to borrow a device.

Webinar for Parents en Espanol. HCPSS will co-host a web conference entirely in Spanish with the Howard County Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network (FIRN) on Wednesday, April 22, from 11 a.m.-noon. Dr. Caroline Walker, HCPSS Executive Director of Program Innovation and Student Well-Being, and Elisa Montalvo, HCPSS Hispanic Achievement Specialist, will discuss HCPSS’ response to COVID–19, including the Continuity of Learning plan, student technology and connectivity, and food support.

Community Support. The Bright Minds Foundation Access to Learning Fund is providing greater support for our students during the extended COVID–19 school closure. Bright Minds has already raised over $23,000 through the fund and has begun to provide HCPSS with additional learning resources, including items such as assistive technology for students receiving special education services, connectivity resources and other key school supplies needed to support remote student learning. We appreciate the support of the many businesses and families who have already made a contribution, and encourage everyone who is able to, to support Bright Minds’ efforts.

I want to again recognize and thank all of our educators who are balancing the responsibilities of providing instruction to their students while simultaneously caring for their own families, and all other staff members who have worked tirelessly during this period to ensure continuity of learning. I also want to thank our parents and guardians who are supporting children at home with this new learning model.

The well-being of our students, staff and families continue to fill my mind and heart, and I offer my best wishes for your continued health and serenity.