Baltimore City scales back in-person learning in response to rising COVID-19 cases

Posted at 5:41 PM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-12 07:30:14-05

BALTIMORE, Md (WMAR) — With the rising COVID-19 cases in Baltimore City, the school system has announced some changes to its reopening plan.

It means high priority students who really need the in-person learning opportunity will still get it but it’s more limited and the district has announced more precautions.

"We are not seeing within school transmission which signals to us that directionally our safety precautions are in place," said Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises.

Santelises said in the 6 weeks that schools have been open with small group in person learning, they have experienced just one positive case and not a single case of transmission. That’s why she is confident in moving forward with reopening to help the students that need it most.

"Some of our most vulnerable students for whom virtual learning is not working really need that in person opportunity," said Santelises.

However, in response to rising COVID-19 rates, it will be scaled back. Originally, 44 schools were supposed to be open as of this coming Monday. Now it’s 27.

"It is not a full reopening of 27 schools. It is not everyone back in as if there’s not a virus," said Santelises.

The students targeted for in-person learning are those with disabilities, homeless students and pre-k and kindergartners, as well as the about 20 percent of students on any given day who Santelises said just aren’t logging on.

She said they are continuing to distribute resources for connectivity, but it’s not always about having them, it’s knowing how to use them.

"If you are someone who is not used to navigating the technological platform or frankly the world of the internet, those things are incredibly frustrating," said Santelises. "We’ve seen stories of young people who have the computer who have the hotspot but who are just saying, 'This isn’t for me. I’m zoning out'."

The district will continue to follow all the CDC safety protocols for reopening and Santelises announced Tuesday a new partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and the city health department to offer on site COVID-19 testing for symptomatic staff and students.

Also new this week: in response to calls of for more transparency, city schools launched a dashboard to share COVID-19 data specific to the schools, including the number of positive cases, potential transmission and closures.

The Baltimore Teachers Union continues to express concerns over reopening and wants the rest of the semester to be virtual.

Santelises said if staff are concerned about teaching in person, they can continue to apply for work accommodations or leave.