8 March 2021
What’s with 85-minute classes, lunch, and more, as answered by Ms. Jennifer Mallo, Atholton’s district representative at Howard County Board of Education meetings.
Background and Safety
Q: Why did the Board decide to open schools?
A: Part of the reason that the Board opened schools was because Governor Hogan and the Superintendent of Education for the state, Karen Salmon, stated that they expected schools to be open, as well as this science coming out of the CDC, that states that schools should be open with certain considerations for protection of health and safety.
Q: Will students be able to change their minds about going back to school or going virtual?
A: We can look at it as two directions. If a student chooses in-person, they can always revert to virtual. However, if a student chooses virtual, they cannot then go-in person. The reason is you are going to have cases where there has to be a quarantine, and while you are waiting out a 14-day asymptomatic quarantine, you want to still be able to take these classes.
Q: What’s going to happen if there’s a confirmed case or mass outbreak at a school?
A: First of all, we will use contact tracing, and based on contact tracing, each individual case would be directed to follow current CDC protocols. So, if there’s a positive exposure, then it’s a fourteen-day quarantine. If you test positive, then it’s a ten-day quarantine. And what happens will be determined on a case-by-case basis. So we have guidelines set up for what determines whether it is a quarantine of a classroom, or is it a mass outbreak, so there are protocols already established for what constitutes what reaction.
Q: Has Howard County started thinking about vaccinating teachers?
A: Yes, absolutely. We would love to have everyone vaccinated, but there are vaccine shortages, and to date, Howard County Health Department has been able to provide 2500 vaccines to staff. And then the Howard County General/John Hopkins system has been able to provide about 1,000 more. And a lot of teachers, if they can find an appointment somewhere else, have gone outside of our local jurisdiction to secure a vaccination. And the one they’ve had the most luck with is the mass-vaccination site at Six Flags.
Q: Do teachers have the option to stay home like students do?
A: Yes and no. A teacher may apply for American with Disabilities (ADA) exemption, and there is a list of criteria– if they meet those criteria, they can continue to teach virtually. In that particular instance, if the teacher were virtual, and there were students in the physical classroom, then there would likely be an adult monitor.
Q: Why did the Board decide to double the length of class time?
A: That was done under the direction under the Maryland State Department of Education for meeting the requirements of a school day.
Q: Have teachers been prepared to keep students engaged for 85-minute classes?
A: It’ll be a challenge, and it will require significant –what I’ll call “brain breaks” , where there is a stopping of one lesson for some stretching, some regrouping.
Q: How will teachers ensure equity between in-class and Google Meet classes?
A: Well, it will be incumbent on the educator to find a balance. I’m not sure that there’s an easy answer for that one. The bottom line is that they will be teaching both, and there’ll be times when probably one of the two groups has the majority of the attention. But then again, it depends on the subject material and the style of the educator’s teaching.
Q: Because of the one-way hallways slowing down the transition between classes, will students have more time to get to their next class?
A: I think we’ll take a lot of lessons learned and at the individual school level. I’m sure they will have the flexibility to say, ‘how will we best meet the needs of our students’?
Q: In the Reopening Report, it says that desks will be set up in the cafeteria six feet apart, and that cafeteria capacity will be determined by the number of students that can be fit in the cafeteria with this rule in place– what happens if not enough desks fit in the cafeteria?
A: That’s likely going to happen. So, it would depend on each and every individual school, how it’s handled. Reservoir’s solution would be to fit somewhere between 105 and 110 students in the cafeteria, then they have a courtyard area inside the school that they will use for overflow. Each and every school will identify those places. And on the high school level once the weather is nice, the use of outside seating will be expanded.
Q: How will serving lunch work for students who are buying?
A: Right now the way it’s set up, there are six-foot markers along the floor and it’ll be grab-and-go. So basically you go up, there might be two choices, you grab one –it’s already contained, probably in a paper bag– and then all you do is let them know what you chose and walk out.
Q: Will after-school clubs and sports be possible?
A: Sports are definitely starting, and I am not 100% sure how clubs will be handled. I would hope that since 40% of our students have elected to stay virtual, that we will still be able to have after-school clubs and activities and that they will be virtual for full participation.
Q: When are seniors graduating and what will that graduation look like?
A: I think it’ll be closer to the end of May, and that graduation is still being planned. But the hope is that it will be an in-person graduation, probably on a smaller scale. So it may be in the high school stadium with reduced attendance, so in the past when it’s been at Merriweather you got ten tickets and everyone was packed in tight. This will certainly have physical distancing, it will definitely be masked, but the goal is to have an in-person graduation.