State Board of Education Tables Discussion About Live Instruction Requirement Until Sept. 1

The Maryland State Board of Education is tabling a discussion about live instruction requirements for the fall semester until Sept. 1, one day after the first day of school for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). 

On Monday, Maryland State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon recommended that the board approve a requirement that schools offer an average of 3.5 hours of live virtual instruction per day this fall. She said the number is an average based on plans submitted and Maryland code that says public schools have to be open for instruction for at least three hours every school day. Synchronous learning is live and students can interact with each other and teachers. Asynchronous learning is independent and includes pre-recorded and pre-planned lessons. 

“I want to make sure that all students have the same opportunities across the state for learning, and I think this is very, very crucial,” Salmon said. After hearing several questions from board members, she said she would do more research and come back Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Board President Clarence Crawford said that a special meeting is tentatively set for the Sept. 1 and will exclusively address the engagement recommendation. 

“I just want to be clear that… this is a very important item and trying to get it right for the children is very, very important,” Crawford said. “And we want to be able to take the time to have a discussion around that, but also I think this is in a way a preview of some of the tougher kinds of decisions that we’re going to have to make this year during this environment.”

Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association and elementary school teacher, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and was concerned about the 3.5-hour recommendation. 

“It was very disappointing to hear Dr. Salmon recommend now, once we’ve already started for many teachers yesterday, to now make a requirement of 3.5 hours on average of synchronous learning,” Bost said.

“We’ve had some stakeholder meetings over the summer and one of the things that the local superintendents and other stakeholders emphasized was ‘please do not change the requirements.’” She said the broad suggestion doesn’t address specificities like very young pre-kindergarten students and causes mistrust. 

“Changing this requirement mid-stream– the public doesn’t know you as much as they know the teacher that they report to or the administrator in the building. And so by changing the schedules now for some, it causes some mistrust. In saying ‘you told me one thing now you’re telling me another,’” Bost said. It could have been in the plan requirements for school systems, but it wasn’t. 

On Tuesday, the MCPS Board of Education approved a plan for the fall 2020 semester, which begins Aug. 31 and ends Jan. 21, 2021. The plan includes live, synchronous instruction at all grade levels and MCPS offered sample schedules for residents to take a look at. Schedules will vary by school and grade. 

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