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The Covid-19 Pandemic

Educationby Ian Round8:24 amApr 1, 20200

As school moves online, teachers and parents press school board on tech access

While Baltimore scrambles to create a remote learning system from scratch, questions about equity and feelings of anxiety surface at last night’s school board meeting

Above: City Schools headquarters on North Avenue. (Mark Reutter)

Representatives from the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Parent and Community Advisory Board last night pressed City Schools to make sure all students have computers and WiFi in the new age of remote learning.

Calling in to a Skype conference call, the BTU’s Zach Taylor urged the Board of School Commissioners not to rely on “the passing benevolence of Comcast and other providers.”

Taylor was referring to an offer from Comcast, announced Monday, to provide free internet to many low-income households for two months followed by a $10 per month subscription.

“The school system needs to ensure that students and educators have equitable access to technology,” Taylor said.

Distance Learning

Kimberly Asante, of the Parent and Community Advisory Board, said parents were frustrated and overwhelmed as they have lost contact with teachers after public schools were closed on March 16 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The baltimorecityschools.org site shows what the school system has been doing to continue its mission of teaching as well as providing food to its 79,000 students.

In addition to links to a list of meal distribution sites, there’s information on how to sign up for emailed updates, links to grade-by-grade learning packets, and a bit about what will happen the week of April 6 when “distance learning” begins.

Students will be able to access daily reading and math lessons on two educational access channels – City Schools TV and Charm TV, according to the website.

But it has been clear in recent days that many parents remain and students feel anxious, with major questions remaining about their strange spring semester: Will grades count? Will there be an in-person graduation?

Feeling Abandoned

Some arched an eyebrow at a comment by State School Superintendent Karen Salmon during a radio interview suggesting classes might resume in school buildings over the summer.

“This typifies the ongoing, willful blindness about Baltimore City. Many of our schools lack air-conditioning, or have old AC that frequently breaks,” parent Melissa Schober tweeted.

At yesterday’s meeting, Asante spoke of the food insecurity many families face and warned that a poor transition to remote learning could leave some students behind.

“There are feelings of abandonment because of the loss of communication between parents and BCPS,” she said.

“We are in uncharted territory”  – CEO Sonja Santelises.

“We will be clearly looking and addressing all those concerns,” said Board Chair Linda Chinnia. “We will take that all into account.”

“I definitely hear the stress many parents are under,” City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said. “We are in uncharted territory.”

Last week her office announced that the school system’s stock of 15,000 Chromebooks would be distributed to students who need them.

Students and their families have been asked to complete a survey on access to food and technology.

Last night Santelises announced the hiring of a new chief financial officer, Christopher Doherty, who comes to North Avenue from ThermoChem Recovery International.

The next board meeting is April 14. The board will meet in closed session at 3 p.m. and in public at 5 p.m. Those interested can dial in or watch online.

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