ELKTON — Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) will release details of the next phase of hybrid reopening by the end of the month, administrators announced in a board meeting Wednesday.

Earlier this month, schools welcomed five percent of students back for in-person instruction amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re really pleased with how the first couple weeks of synchronous and face-to-face learning has been going, which makes us very hopeful that in October, we’ll be able to expand the number of students that we bring back,” Associate Superintendent Carolyn Teigland said.

Reopening plans

According to Superintendent Jeffrey Lawson, the district surveyed over 10,000 families asking whether they would like to return for face-to-face instruction on October 12. About 36 percent of respondents indicated that they would like to continue learning remotely, a large proportion of which are middle and high schoolers.

Under a broader reopening, the district hopes to offer at least one day of face-to-face instruction per week to all students who want it.

Teigland emphasized that students would not be able to switch between in-person and virtual instruction at will, and would be required to come to school according to the hybrid schedule which the district sets.

“If they do not show up to school, they will be marked absent. They can’t just go back and forth from face-to-face to virtual,” she said. “This is especially important for older learners who might wake up in the morning and not want to come to school.”

She added that schools would be liberal in accommodating changes due to health concerns.

“If a student is tested positive for COVID, we’re going to let them go back out virtually,” she said. “In situations that are extenuating circumstances, parents just have to reach out to their child’s counselor or school principal, and we will work with those families.”

Christie Stephens, a board member representing Rising Sun, asked whether teachers would be expected to balance both in-person and remote learners at the same time, as well as whether students in the classroom would still primarily be learning through an online platform.

As they move into hybrid reopening, teachers may be responsible for both face-to-face and remote instruction, Teigland said. The demands on teachers may vary from school to school, day to day and even lesson to lesson, she added.

“We want it to be as normal as possible for kids, but our priority is to get kids into the building so that they can be monitored,” she said. “There is a way to do it. We just have to make certain that the numbers are rational so that it’s not overwhelming for teachers.”

She went on to say that the plans would be consistent by grade level, so that students at Thomson Estates and Calvert Elementary would follow the same schedule of in-person and virtual learning. As the rollout proceeds, individual school leaders will have freedom to make adjustments as makes sense.

“It’s a puzzle right now,” she said.

Business as usual

In a rare respite from talking about the COVID-19 pandemic, board members also discussed and approved the $217,934,112 budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

While the operating budget is up 4.1 percent from last year’s $209,355492, the upcoming year’s fund balance is at $9,792,387, down 25 percent from last year’s balance of $12,637,280. That includes about $5.4 million to cover expenses, and another $3 million for healthcare contingency, leaving a budget contingency of about $822,000.

Lawson also updated the board on plans for a North East Middle School replacement project.

After negotiations through the summer, the board voted to approve the purchase of a 20-acre property adjacent to the North East High School campus on Irishtown Road for $1,850,000. The project will follow the Chesapeake City Elementary School replacement project, which is in its final year of funding and on track for its target completion date.

The purchase, Lawson said, will move forward next week.

“With all due respect to COVID planning, the chance to build a new school for the North East community — it’s just something we’re really, really excited about,” Lawson said.

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