Wicomico Schools Review First Week Successes, Challenges

SALISBURY – As students and teachers began the academic year in a virtual format this week, school system officials said they are continuing to address laptop distribution delays and technical difficulties.

In a Wicomico County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Donna Hanlin highlighted both the successes and challenges of virtual learning as students and teachers began the first week of the 2020-2021 academic year.

In her presentation to the board, Hanlin noted Wicomico County Public Schools reported an attendance rate of 82% for the first day of online classes.

“I think this is a very good percentage, and it will continue to improve …,” she said.

Hanlin said she had received positive messages from parents this week regarding the new virtual format. She added, however, that the school system was aware of some technical difficulties and shortages of digital devices, which prevented some students from accessing virtual instruction.

Hanlin said the school system was working with those families to fix those issues and provide laptops and hotspots as quickly as possible. In a statement this week, the school system acknowledged that it was still in the process of issuing digital devices to families.

“Schools are continuing to issue laptops and hotspots to families as supplies become available,” the statement reads. “Families who have not yet received devices should check in with their school or schools, as the school system receives more deliveries of devices almost daily, and promptly sends them out to schools so the schools can distribute them to families.”

In March, when schools closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 15,000 students were without school-issued laptops, according to the school system. Since that time, devices from school laptop carts have been converted for home use, and more laptops were ordered using CARES Act funding.

But the school system reported that delays in requesting laptops and hotspots had led to a shortage of devices.

“We are committed to getting a device into the hands of every student, because every student’s education is important,” the statement reads. “During the summer our schools asked parents to inform the school if a student would need a laptop or assistance in connecting to the internet, and then planned accordingly for device distribution. We had enough resources to fulfill the requests received from earlier in the summer. Now, with new requests coming in daily, the initial reserves of devices are depleted. The schools and school system are awaiting additional deliveries to fill new technology requests.”

Hanlin this week also addressed families’ desires to return to the school buildings.

While she said she was eager to have students return to school as soon as possible, Hanlin noted the school system would continue to monitor metrics – including positivity rates and case rates per 100,000 – from the Maryland Department of Health before allowing in-person instruction.

“We are not moving in a good direction for Wicomico County,” she said. “But we are very hopeful it will reverse.”

Hanlin, however, said the school system still plans to introduce small groups of students into its buildings by Oct. 1. The recovery plan outlines in-person instruction plans for career and technology education, special education, English language learners, gifted and talented learners and at-risk populations.

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.