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OAKLAND — After an extended executive session, the Garrett County Board of Education voted Tuesday in a split vote for the system to return under a modified “red” first term, which would have most students return online for the first nine weeks of the school year. The hope would be to eventually move to a “yellow” hybrid model as soon as safely possible.

The board also agreed to add Oct. 9 and Nov. 30 as school days on the calendar, which would move the students’ last day to June 8. The change comes on the heels of a decision from the July 14 meeting to postpone the first day of school to Sept. 8.

Under the “red” hybrid model, small populations of students — such as those with individualized education programs, students on 504 plans and potentially those in the summer program — will be in person to start the school year.

“We are not legally allowed to start under a ‘green’ five days a week. If we could start under a ‘green,’ that might be my recommendation this evening because that would mean it was safe to go back and we could get our kids back to our teachers,” said Barbara Baker, Garrett County Public Schools superintendent.

Families and students will have the option to return virtually for potentially the entire school year, if they so choose.

Letters will be sent out by the end of the week, said Baker, in which families will be able to select whether they would like their child, or children, to return under a full virtual model or under the “red” hybrid virtual model and eventual “yellow” hybrid model.

“We are going to make every effort to return to in-person learning as soon as it is safe to do so and hope that even in a hybrid model we are permitted to return, perhaps, even four days a week,” said Baker. “We know this will help families get back to work and we know this will help with daycare issues.”

In the current draft document detailing the school system’s plans for a return to in-person instruction, all students and staff would be required to wear face covering on the bus, in the building and when social distancing is not possible.

Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, earlier in the month, handed down guidelines that all Maryland school systems must abide by when making decisions for their reopening and the upcoming school year. School systems are to have their plans to the state education department for review and approval by Aug. 14.

As part of those guidelines and protocols, the state set up a three color system, the K-12 Decision Matrix, to determine status of schools within each phase. The Maryland State Board of Education and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon will be responsible for determining the operational status of schools in each stage.

Decisions on what step local school systems find themselves in depend on COVID-19 trends in the region. The classifications of spread are no/slow spread, minimal/moderate spread and substantial spread.

Under the GCPS Continuity of Learning Plan, if the school district were to end up in the “red” stage, it would mean GCPS will be completely shut down with all students engaging in an online instruction eLearning Model.

The “yellow” stage would mean Garrett County schools will be open, but students would rotate between in-person and online instruction, following a Hybrid Learning Model.

And in the “green” stage, GCPS would be fully open and operating on campus in a traditional five-day-a-week style — or the Traditional Learning Model.

Students enrolled in the GCPS Online Digital Academy option will engage in online instruction.

Follow staff writer Brandon Glass on Twitter @Bglass13.

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