Baltimore County superintendent announces reopening timeline, immediately reevaluates

Geoffrey Dochat, Editor in Chief

On Thursday, September 17, 2020, Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Daryl Williams released a timeline for reopening schools, setting dates for returning to classrooms much sooner than the previously announced January 29, 2020 date. The announcement shocked many, including teachers, who were not notified beforehand and concerned about its following implications.

A specific addendum regarding COVID-19 and the dates for remote learning was added to the Memorandum of Understanding, a contract between BCPS and the teachers’ unions of the county. With remote learning in effect until at least January 29, 2020, lifting the state of emergency would be the only way for teachers and students to return to schools sooner than originally planned without unions taking legal action.

However, Williams released a revised timeline a week later, redacting nearly every aspect of the original plan. The plan now targets the day-schools of Baltimore County, which include White Oak School, Ridge Ruxton School, Battle Monument, and Maiden Choice School. Staff at these facilities, which teach broader life skills to individualized students with disabilities, are expected to return on November 2 and students to follow on November 16. However, there have been no further announcements regarding any other county schools. Many teachers see this move by BCPS as irresponsible and implausible.

“Sending out a plan and then revising it right away shows that input from stakeholders was not taken into consideration,” said Karen Wilson, teacher and AP Coordinator at Dulaney. “It says to me that the communication among the BCPS superintendent, the BCPS school board, TABCO (Teacher’s Association of Baltimore County), and even the county executive is lacking.”

English teacher Brittany Jackson agrees that communication, especially in our current situation, is necessary.  She also points out that some private and religious-based schools in Maryland are operating with students in the building.

“I think it would be beneficial for BCPS to perhaps look at their procedures and opening plans and see if any of it could be feasible for our county,” said Jackson. “Obviously, private schools are privy to resources public schools might not have, but I think a closer look at the specifics could be helpful.”

The question of resources is recurring in BCPS’s reopening plan. Budgetary constraints would make it difficult to afford the supplies and labor needed to adequately sanitize all surfaces and areas of a facility.

“We need extra funding to make it all happen,” said Wilson. “And [sanitation is] just one tiny aspect of reopening. Who knows how we would ensure everyone wears a mask or stays six feet away from each other?

In addition to uncertainty about reopening, it is unclear how reopening would look. At a school like Dulaney, social distancing with a population of over 2000 people is virtually impossible. 

“Doing some combination of synchronous and asynchronous days, maybe breaking the population up by alphabet or grade level,” said Jackson. “What works for one school, might not work for another, so I think giving each school the autonomy to design their own reopening plan would be critical.”