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The Covid-19 Pandemic

Educationby Ian Round12:53 pmApr 7, 20200

Schools CEO says grades may not count against students

Food distribution sites are now outside of school buildings to better comply with physical distancing guidelines

Above: Sonja Santelises answers questions at a City Council meeting in 2018. (Fern Shen)

Baltimore Schools CEO Sonja Santelises is hinting that students whose grades have dropped since the start of distance learning may not be penalized.

The lack of tech access, together with physical, mental and economic stresses, could make grading unfair for some students during the current pandemic.

“We don’t want their grades hurt because of something that is way beyond their control,” she told the City Council at a virtual meeting last night.

“We don’t want young people unnecessarily burdened with grades that primarily reflect their access to resources.”

Hundreds of parents have signed a petition, put together by education activist Ben Dalbey, demanding “academic immunity” beginning March 16, the first day of remote learning.

In addition to grades, Santelises said she is looking at the impact of school closures on graduating seniors and senior activities, students moving on to the next grade, and students working toward industry certifications.

One possible option for seniors is to delay graduation and senior events “to protect these important milestones in a young person’s life.”

But, she warned, many of the decisions on how to handle these issues will ultimately be made at the state level.

Online Classrooms

Yesterday was the first day that online classrooms were in action, Santelises said, but given that many students don’t have computers or internet access, city schools can’t go online only.

“[We] cannot back away from paper packets because connectivity continues to be a challenge,” she said before concluding, “We really had a good first day.”

To address the digital divide among students, Santelises said she is pushing Comcast to provide WiFi to more low-income families.

The school system will also distribute about 15,000 Chromebooks, giving priority to high school juniors and seniors.

Santelises said school programming will be broadcast every day on CharmTV (Comcast channel 25) and City Schools TV (Comcast channel 77), as well as on the BCPSS website.

Her responses came in the wake of last week’s school board meeting where the Baltimore Teachers Union and Parent and Community Advisory Board warned of the dangers of a poor transition to remote learning.

Kimberly Asante, of the PCAB, said “there are feelings of abandonment” by parents from the lack of effective communication by school officials since the start of the pandemic.

Moving Food Outdoors

Apparently responding to criticism from another quarter, Santelises also announced that, as of yesterday, meals and homework packets were being distributed outside of school buildings.

Food relief activist J.C. Faulk told The Brew last week that schools weren’t adequately complying with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s physical distancing guidelines to slow the spread of the virus.

Housing official blocks volunteers from distributing food to public housing residents (4/2/20)

A major problem, he said, was that too many children were being crowded into indoor school spaces to pick up food and homework, touching the same doors as they entered and left the buildings.

“They’re forcing little black kids to go out into the world to get a sandwich,” Faulk said.

Santelises said, “We know that we’ll have some bumps, and we know that it won’t go perfectly. Our goal has been to provide as many opportunities as possible to support families.”
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To reach this reporter: ianpground@gmail.com

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