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Following months of discussion, Cecil County Public Schools released its 2020-2021 recovery plan Thursday, which calls for an all virtual start to the school year and includes plans to phase in face-to-face learning.

The plan is 25 pages in length and covers a wide range of categories including: curriculum and instruction, scheduling, mental/behavioral health and student safety, instructional and administrative technology, special student populations and human resources and operations.

Initially the plan calls for school to begin Sept. 1 in an all-virtual environment. Beginning Sept. 8 the district will begin providing face-to-face instruction for small groups of students based upon the needs of children.

CCPS Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Lawson said the goal initially is to bring back five percent of the district’s neediest students. Lawson said the district has put together a rubric for principals at individual schools that gives the principals direction and guidance on how to determine which students may benefit the most from returning to in-person learning.

Lawson said several factors, such as the status of a student’s individualized education program and whether a student has a history of poor performance academically or a history of absenteeism. The guidelines organized by the district would then help principals identify the five percent of their school’s student body that would most benefit from the program.

Lawson said when students are identified for the program, the family of the student will then be contacted to see if they are comfortable having the student return to school. If not, Lawson said those students will be allowed to participate in the virtual learning program and the school would simply go to the next student on the list to determine whether they will participate in the program.

This status would be for a trial period and would be evaluated every 30 days, Lawson said. Some of the factors the district would be looking at is during that time whether or not the district has been able to maintain the integrity of the district’s safety protocols and whether the individual schools have been free of outbreaks. He noted the district is working closely with the Cecil County Health Department to collect information regarding such issues as school aged children testing positive for COVID-19 and a variety of other such data.

Lawson noted that the district ran what he called a “very successful” summer face-to-face program at Gilpin Manor Elementary School that served to inform the district regarding best practices.

Assuming that the initial trial run of face-to-face instruction is a success, Lawson said the district would plan to gradually phase in more students as part of the goal of eventually returning all students to a face-to-face education model.

According to the district’s recovery plan, there are three phases of reopening including: stage one —virtual learning, stage two — blended learning/hybrid model, and stage three — face-to-face learning.

While stage one and three are fairly self explanatory, the stage two model would envision a model that blends virtual learning and face-to-face learning based upon splitting students into two cohorts, where the cohorts would split time between in-person and virtual learning.

Based upon one of the charts provided in the plan for instance, cohort one students would be in class, while cohort two was learning via an online method, and then the two cohorts would later switch places allowing each to experience both learning models.

While stage two in the district’s recovery plan may appear to be a specific phase of its own, Lawson said the transition from stage one to stage two in the recovery plan would be much more gradual. For instance, he noted that if the first trial of in-person learning with five percent of students is a success, the district may consider increasing the number of those participating in face-to-face learning to 20 to 25 percent.

One of the challenges the district faces in bringing students back to in-person learning is the need to keep students socially distant from one another. Lawson noted that it has been recommended by health officials that the district allot 110 square feet per student. He noted that this meant that schools could possibly have up to 10 students in a classroom, but the district would not be able to have a classroom full of 25 students.

CCPS Associate Superintendent Dr. Carolyn Teigland said the district had over 150 stakeholders involved in the discussions and that the stakeholders looked at every possible detail necessary to make a decision on how reopening schools would look.

Teigland said the stakeholders were divided into six subcommittees that met at least once a week for anywhere from an hour to several hours a week. This process went on for months, she said.

“I think this is most challenging process I have ever been through,” she said of the planning, saying it was so important to everyone involved to make sure they got it right.

Lawson said the district has already received quite a bit of feedback on the decision and that it is fairly evenly split down the middle with some parents being pleased with the decision, while others have voiced concerns.

CCPS Public Information Officer Kelly Keeton, said the opinions of parents is split evenly right down the middle. She noted that some parents felt very strongly that their kids should go back to in-person learning, while others were happier with a more virtual learning environment.

Other districts around the state are also generally beginning with virtual learning. Some districts are planning an all virtual option for the fall semester.

CCPS’ recovery plan can be found on the district’s website ccps.org.

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