Potential hybrid model rejected, small group programs to be developed

By Sarah Meklir

Managing Editor

Image: hcpss.org

In Monday’s (November 16) Howard County Board of Education meeting, representatives voted 5-2 to continue through April 14 with the current virtual learning format.

They additionally, in an email to parents and staff sent Tuesday, November 17 from the HCPSS Public Information team, informed the community about the recent developments:

“During its work session on Monday, November 16, 2020, the Howard County Board of Education voted to continue the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) in a virtual instructional model through the third academic quarter, which ends April 14, 2021.”

The Board also rejected the current proposal from HCPSS, which introduced a plan for hybrid (in-school and synchronous) learning to be implemented as safety permits. This means not only will students remain virtual through third quarter, but students, parents, and staff no longer have a potential framework for returning to in-person learning. The email continued, detailing plans for improving small group programs: 

“Additionally, the Board instructed the Superintendent and staff to explore possibilities for expanding and enhancing in-person small group program offerings, [which]… serve the needs of students who most benefit from face-to-face instruction and support.”

As of last week (November 9) at the HCPSS Town Hall meeting, Howard County Chief Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Michael J. Martirano, had developed with the school system leadership team a hybrid model for returning to in-person learning to implement when public health metrics allowed. He expanded on the difference between creating a hybrid model and implementing it.

“The process of approving a hybrid model is quite separate from the decision to transition to a hybrid model. Once a hybrid model is approved by the Board, that model and the metrics that were already approved will provide the tools for making a decision about the second semester.”

One of the two dissenting votes on Monday came from Vicky Cutroneo. The Baltimore Sun explored the explanation behind her thinking. The Vice Chairperson was careful to reaffirm that approving a hybrid model does not mean the school system will immediately return to in-person learning.

“What we are talking about now is the conceptual model. If we’re afraid to do anything because we don’t know what could happen, we are failing ourselves.” 

In reviewing the latest hybrid model proposal, the Board of Education exposed many weaknesses and areas for improvement, both in terms of safety for students and staff, and in upholding Howard County’s high standards for a positive learning environment.

Martirano and the county’s educational development team is now tasked with revising the plan, answering remaining questions, and constructing a safe and workable hybrid model.

Until a hybrid learning proposal is in place and approved by the Board of Education, students and staff will not be resuming face-to-face instruction. Moreover, until metrics indicate it would be safe to return to an in-person learning environment, no hybrid model will be implemented—no matter how fool-proof it may end up being. 

Martirano defended the need for structure and a defined plan for returning to in-person learning in the Town Hall meeting, saying, “The model we propose represents our collective thinking for an approach that would allow students to learn in the classroom and retain the flexibility to move between hybrid and virtual as circumstances permit, and maintain safety for students and staff to the greatest extent as possible.” 

He went on to underscore the importance of an open dialogue and finding a balance to ensure the safety of students and staff, while also maintaining Howard County’s standards for education. “The guidance from the Howard County Health Department, regardless of where the following weeks and months will take us, are fundamental guideposts for all decision-making.” 

Martirano continued, “We will always always lead with equity and supporting students and staff. The health and well-being and safety of our students and staff are the first priority for any decisions and we are committed to providing students with a robust learning program regardless of the format of the instructional model.”

The word “metrics” has been tossed around recently, as an explanation for why schools aren’t being opened. If you, dear reader, are as confused about those “metrics” as this reporter was, you will appreciate this link, leading you to the very metrics the county keeps referring to. It was approved by the HoCo Board of Education on October 22.

Resources for more information: 

HCPSS Reopening plan:

Review of BOE meeting along with input from Board members: