Wicomico Schools Present Three Options For Return

SALISBURY – School officials in Wicomico County are asking parents to provide feedback as they finalize plans for academic instruction this fall.

On July 28, the Wicomico County Board of Education will hold a special meeting to vote on a final plan for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Three possible models for instruction include a Green Model that features traditional learning, a Red Model that features remote learning, and a Yellow Model that features both in-school instruction and at-home learning, or a virtual program for students who choose not to return to a school building.

“When we think we have certain decisions made, it changes in a moment’s time,” said Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have to make some decisions to move forward.”

Instruction in the Red Model or the Green Model would apply to students across the board, Hanlin said in a media briefing this week. But officials are putting the greatest focus on the Yellow Model, which currently appears to be the most likely scenario.

Under that model, officials have discussed a schedule in which students are in school two or three days a week, or every other week, with distance learning the remainder of the time. No more than half of the class would be in a classroom on any given day.

The Yellow Model also takes transportation and internet connectivity into consideration, as well as virtual programs for students who choose not to return to a school building under such a scenario. Officials said the model would not differ among age groups.

“We will be doing everything in our power, if we are in a hybrid situation, to ensure that families who have multiple kids in multiple schools are on the same hybrid schedule,” said Chief Academic Officer Rick Briggs. “We know it’s challenging for students, and we want to be as accommodating as possible.”

The school system has released a “New Year School Registration” survey, which will ask parents to consider the hybrid Yellow Model, and to commit either to having a student attend school in the hybrid model or to engage in instruction through a virtual program.

“It’s a pre-registration,” Hanlin said. “We need to know what parents’ preliminary thoughts are … What they are saying right now is not set in stone.”

Hanlin said parents will be asked to confirm their registration choices for the fall once a final plan is in place. In the meantime, she said school officials are busy preparing for the coming academic year.

Hanlin noted that social distancing practices would be followed in buildings and masks would be required, should students return to school in the fall.

“Based upon what we know right now, we will be requiring masks in our buildings,” she said. “There are some segments of the population, our very youngest children and some special needs students, that we’re still trying to figure out how to make that work.”

Additionally, school leaders and school system staff have upgraded air quality equipment in schools, purchased masks, disposable gloves and cleaning supplies, and established health screening procedure.

“We will be disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in common areas and in between hall changes in our secondary schools,” Hanlin said.
“Buildings will be thoroughly cleaned every evening and several trained cleaning crews will be traveling to all schools every night using a Protexus spray disinfecting system throughout each building.”

The school system has also secured laptops for every student in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as hotspots for families with connectivity issues. In partnership with community organizations, the school system will also support roughly 300 families with internet packages.

Hanlin said the model selected for the fall will reflect the school system’s effort to balance both instruction and safety.

“We remind ourselves that our mission is to educate students, but our priority is to keep them safe,” she said. “So we’re not making these decisions based upon politics and we try not to make them based upon money – however, we do have to consider budgets when we make decisions. We’re making decisions in the best interest of students and families and staff.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.