CUMBERLAND — The Allegany County Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to begin the 2020 - 2021 school year virtually.
The decision was made Tuesday during a meeting broadcast on YouTube that at one point had more than 500 viewers.
Students will begin virtual learning on Sept. 8, and educators will return Aug. 19-21 and Sept. 2-3 to prepare for the start of the school year.
"This is the largest decision that we've probably ever had to make," board president Tammy Fraley said. "We are trying to do what (is) best for Allegany County."
The Allegany County Health Department was routinely consulted as school officials pondered the decision, ACPS Interim Superintendent Jeff Blank said.
"A parent survey was also created to gauge community feedback," he said.
As the school year progresses, ACPS will continue to consider recommendations from Gov. Larry Hogan, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, local and state health departments, and Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Blank said.
In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, Salmon closed schools across the state on March 13.
ACPS staff and board members will monitor the school system's ability to adjust the plan "with the ultimate goal of returning to normal school operations (when) possible."
ACPS Chief Academic Officer Kim Green-Kalbaugh provided an overview of the virtual plan.
The school system used a K-12 matrix provided by Hogan's office to develop plans for traditional, hybrid and fully virtual models, she said.
"Schools systems have the right to be more restrictive than the requirements outlined in the state recovery plan," Green-Kalbaugh said.
"All students will have access to high-quality virtual instruction," she said. "Students with special learning needs will have access to appropriate supports, accommodations and modifications in line with their documented learning needs."
Learning support and resources will be available for all students and parents.
"The virtual learning will be much more robust," than it was at the end of the last school year, Green-Kalbaugh said and talked of Schoology — a learning management system with tools for educators to design lessons and evaluate student understanding.
"Schoology is also very user-friendly for both students and adults," she said.
"Students will have a modified schedule with shortened class periods that allow them to participate in distance learning instruction without conflict with other classes," Green-Kalbaugh said.
Teachers will have afternoon office hours to answer questions from students and parents.
The school board’s decision to open the school year virtually will also postpone all athletic and extra curricular activities effective immediately.
The school system's lunch program will continue at various ACPS sites from noon to 1:30 p.m.
"We're trying to do the best thing to keep everybody safe," board member Bob Farrell said. "We need to evaluate what goes on in our county and in the country and look at the medical data and see what comes about."
The Allegany County Education Association supports the school board's decision.
"ACEA leadership and our members look forward to working with the school system to resolve the remaining questions in anticipation that our members may return to work in the safest manner possible, whether that is teleworking or working in a building," the group said via press release. "To be clear, ACEA members worked exceptionally long hours during the closure of buildings in the spring, have put in hours of their own time over the summer to prepare for the coming school year and will be working, as they always do, above and beyond what is required of them whether they are teleworking or in a building."
In other school board news:
• ACPS attorney Mike Llewellyn said the board recently held closed meetings to discuss issues including a search for a permanent superintendent, suspension of a teacher, "revocation of a certificate," and legal, audit and contract matters.