July 31, 2020
I am deeply thankful for your continued support and understanding as we face each decision point since school campuses officially closed on March 13. I know that we all want to reopen schools safely so that our students can receive the in-person instruction they so desperately need.
I have important information to share with you including our current back to school plans as well as a preview of the recovery plan which will be published widely in August.
The most important announcement is that MSB will start the year in virtual instruction beginning the day after Labor Day, Tuesday, September 8. This decision was based on a variety of factors including staff and parent surveys, what is happening nationally and locally and for the safety and well-being of our students and staff.
Feedback from surveys and virtual town hall meetings have made it clear that while many families and staff prefer an in-person option, there is also significant concern for reopening in August.
In a staff survey, 31% of staff who provide direct services to students have said that they will not be prepared to return in the fall, some due to personal or immediate family risk factors and others due to childcare challenges since their own children’s schools will hold virtual instruction (Harford, Baltimore, and Baltimore City).
Starting the year on campus with a deficit of direct service staff would present a critical management and safety problem for in-person instruction.
166 of our 207 (80%) families responded to our survey. There was an even split on parent responses:
- 52 (31%) of respondents said they were planning to send their child back to school regardless of the reopening plan.
- 57 (34%) indicated that they preferred reduced numbers of students (alternating schedules), OR other variation of remote/in person instruction OR that they were not sure whether they will send their children back to school will be at the time of the survey.
- 57 (34%) said that they are not comfortable sending their child and will keep their child home regardless.
Additionally, infection cases continue to slowly increase in Maryland, worse unfortunately in some counties. As a statewide school this continues to be a significant threat to the health and well-being of staff and students as our students come from all over the state of Maryland.
The MSB Recovery Plan for On-Campus Instruction
Previously, we shared the general safety protocols that will be in place for on-campus instruction.
I want to share an outline of the recovery plan for reintroducing students to the campus. The gradual reopening, transitioning to the next tier for reopening will be based on the following assumptions:
- Each tier builds on the previous tier and assumes an increased level of safety based on infection rates or information from the scientific community.
- With successful implementation of each tier and stable or improving infection rates, MSB will move to the next tier.
- If circumstances improve dramatically, MSB could skip tiers (such as if infection rates decrease significantly, or when successful vaccine is developed.)
- If infection rates worsen, MSB could revert to virtual instruction or an earlier tier with decreased numbers of students on campus.
- Families will have the option to continue remote instruction.
Tier 1: Students Come to Campus for Individual Appointments
- Staff initiated appointments for students who need low vision assessments, educational, related service assessments, clinical or instructional support needs which are not suited for virtual delivery.
Tier 2: Early Learning Students and/or Limited Student Cohorts with Modified Schedules
- Preschool and kindergarten students return on an alternating A/B schedule.
- Small classroom cohorts of students return on an alternating A/B schedule. All of our students have important and unique learning needs, but the initial student groups will be developed based on a variety of factors including educational need, general access, age-span within groups, and similar instructional levels and learning modalities to help ensure success at this tier of reopening MSB.
Tier 3: All Students with Modified Schedule and Limited Residential Program
- All students return to the MSB campus on an alternating A/B schedule in cohorts.
- Residential program will be limited to students who live outside of a defined geographic radius in order to limit numbers of students/staff to safe levels.
Tier 4: All Students Return to Five-Day Weekly Schedules with Limited Residential Program
- Students return to a five-day weekly schedule in cohorts.
- Residential program will be limited to students who live outside of a defined geographic radius to maintain safe numbers. (The same as Tier 3.)
Tier 5: Post-Pandemic
- School returns to normal schedule for all students.
We will start the year in Tier 1.
We will continually reassess if/when we can move up to the next Tier. October 9 will be a target date for whether to move to Tier 2, if we haven’t done so already.
Based on MSDE requirements, the MSB recovery plan will be published by August 14. A parent zoom town hall is scheduled for Tuesday, August 4 at 6:30 PM.
The purpose of the meeting is to review the recovery plan (above), to provide some general information regarding the more robust plan for virtual instruction and most of all to listen and respond to your questions.
Here is the invitation:
When: Aug 4, 2020 06:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Topic: Parent Town Hall
Register in advance for this webinar:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
W. Robert Hair, Superintendent
We need your voice in Return to School Planning
Please take this Return to School Survey
As a follow up to the Parent Town Hall on July 8, 2020, MSB is asking parents/guardians and families to indicate if, at this time, do they intend for their child to return to campus in the fall.
If you have not already please take the general Return to School Survey
A Message to Parents from Rob Hair, Superintendent 6/16/20
Dear MSB Families,
We look forward to the day when students will return to school on the MSB campus. In the meantime, we continue planning for opening school safely. I want to provide a video update with you on the thinking behind our planning and what to expect during the reopening the campus in the fall.
As you know, we are consulting with the medical community in our return to school plan. The biggest challenge we face is in determining appropriate safety plans and acquiring the right protective equipment for working with students who cannot maintain safe distancing or wear masks on their own.
With that said, I want to point out that school will look very different when school resumes on campus. There will be a more medical look and feel at MSB. There will be daily health screenings for students, staff and visitors and staff will wear surgical masks and often face shields when working with students.
As I mentioned before, we continue to consider whether we will need to have alternating weekly schedules, some groups coming on campus on a given week and others at home for remote instruction (A weeks/B weeks). This is a strategy to keep safe distancing of students in classrooms and in the residential program more manageable. This is complicated for many reasons, and we are giving it a great deal of thought.
We also continue sourcing and acquiring the necessary protective equipment and sanitizing supplies. This includes masks, face shields, gowns, and hand sanitizing gel among other things which have remained in short supply since the beginning of the pandemic. Some materials we have been able to purchase in advance, others are projected to be delivered late in the summer and still other materials are not yet available. If anyone has resources or connections with medical supply providers, please let me know.
And we are acquiring electrostatic misting equipment to assist in quickly sanitizing handrails, door knobs, and other high-touch surfaces more frequently throughout the day. They are scheduled for delivery in August.
We would like to again ask for your assistance with three things:
- Thank you for your participation in the survey. It’s not too late if you
would like to submit your thoughts. Your concerns and insights regarding what
safety looks like for your child are invaluable as we design our plan.
- This is a summary of the results so far:
- The majority parents trust that we will design a good safety plan.
- Many parents express concern that their children may contract COVID and be at risk due to their medical status.
- Others are concerned about exposing elderly family members/medically compromised individuals who live in their home to the virus.
- Others expressed concern that if there is an A/B schedule, work and childcare would be very challenging to manage.
- Others want school to reopen as soon as possible.
- This is a summary of the results so far:
- Your answers to that survey prompted another brief survey
which we would appreciate your help with. We would like to know:
- How many parents plan to keep their children home, even if schools open in the fall.
- Are any parents willing to volunteer to be part of the team which will review and provide feedback for the return-to-school plan.
- Finally, again, in preparation for reopening school, please have your children practice wearing masks if it is appropriate and safe for them to do so. Remember, children who cannot safely remove their own masks should not wear masks and there is no expectation for them to do so. (Our safety guidelines take this into account.)
Thank you for your continued support and thoughtful feedback as we continue to make plans for the fall.
W. Robert Hair, Superintendent
Message From Superintendent, Rob Hair, 6/05/20
Dear MSB Families,
With the 2019-2020 school year nearly over, we want to thank all of you for your support as we bring this challenging and extraordinary year of remote learning to a close. The part you, as parents, have played in supporting your children under incredibly challenging circumstances has been extraordinary.
We want nothing more than for all of our students to be back in school as soon as possible and are making plans for reopening in the fall.
Our goal is to announce our plan for how we will reopen in the next few weeks, but we would like to take this opportunity to share some of our planning assumptions and also seek your input regarding specific concerns you may have about reopening school as we shape that plan.
First, I’ll share some context about the process to date. The work of the leadership team for the past month has been developing a plan to return to school. We are paying close attention to the science with consultation from the medical community. The science evolves almost daily as more data is gathered about how this virus spreads and what safety measures will need to be in place to protect our students and staff.
In addition to what we already know about transmission (i.e. that it spreads through coughing, sneezing, touching surfaces and our faces and physical proximity to others) research now suggests that it can take as little as 5 minutes to transmit the virus when safe physical distancing is not maintained. There is also evidence that indicates increased risk of transmission in enclosed environments especially when there is insufficient air ventilation.
Children are often asymptomatic and spread the virus silently. And more than previously thought, children, teens and young adults seem to be at greater risk for severe complications from COVID-19. And those with underlying health conditions, like some students at MSB, are at even greater risk.
What That Means for MSB
All of this has significant safety implications for students and staff with opening the MSB campus. The reason is that many of our students require close and frequent physical contact for things such as positioning and physical management (like our students who use wheelchairs;) or deafblind students who require tactile sign language and many students cannot maintain an appropriate physical distance due to behaviors. Many will not be able to wear masks, or tell staff when they are not feeling well or have the ability to manage sneezing or coughing safely (such as coughing into a tissue.)
These factors make it extremely challenging to protect students and staff from spreading the virus to one other. Our protocols will be different by necessity, with a higher degree of precaution and protective equipment (masks, face shields and gowns) than you would find in public schools.
With these things in mind we are constructing a plan based on guidance from the MSDE, the CDC, and consulting with medical professionals with expertise in infectious disease.
We anticipate a gradual, phased-in plan to ensure that we can prepare to meet the following 3 key priorities successfully. Nothing could be worse than to do a poor job of reopening school only to have to close our doors again due to an outbreak on campus.
- Key Considerations for the MSB Prevention and Response Plan
- Daily health screenings for students and staff
- Alternating schedules, some groups coming on campus and others at home for remote instruction (A weeks/B weeks) to limit the numbers of students in classrooms and in the residential program
- Closing the dining rooms and delivering meals to classrooms to avoid group mixing
- Arranging student furniture to promote safe physical distancing
- Keeping groups together exclusively throughout the school day without mixing with other groups
- Push-in and remote therapy services whenever possible, to avoid small enclosed rooms
- Reducing (and eliminating whenever possible) aerosol producing medical or speech therapy procedures
- Reviewing our HVAC systems, air change rate, and air filtration throughout the buildings
- Considerations for playgrounds and other facilities
- Procedures when there is a confirmed case of COVID disease
- Protocol Design
Based on consultation with the medical community, a guidance document is being developed based on our student population with necessary safety procedures to be used in different circumstances, for example, when to use cloth masks, medical masks, respirators, face shields, gowns, gloves and also routine hand washing.
- A Ready Supply of Essential Medical Safety Materials
We continue sourcing and acquiring the necessary protective and hygienic supplies including masks, face shields, gowns, and hand sanitizing gel among other things which have remained in short supply since the beginning of the pandemic. Some materials we have been able to purchase in advance, others are projected to be delivered late in the summer and still other materials are not yet available.
- Sanitizing Procedures
We are also developing new procedures for and increasing the frequency of sanitizing procedures which will be performed by our staff. This includes acquiring electrostatic misting equipment to assist in quickly sanitizing handrails, door knobs, and other high-touch surfaces more frequently throughout the day.
We are also in close contact with our counterparts across the country to learn from their plans. And in order to bring as many voices into the process as possible, we have asked staff for feedback and have been brainstorming reopening plans in weekly virtual town hall meetings.
We would also like to ask for your assistance, as our parent community, with two things:
1. Please take a few minutes to complete this brief survey. Your concerns and insight regarding what safety looks like for your child is invaluable as we design our plan.
2. Please have your child practice wearing a mask if it is appropriate and safe for them to do so. (Remember, children who cannot safely remove their own masks should not wear masks.)
As mentioned previously, our goal is to announce the back-to-school plan for the 2020-2021 academic year in a few weeks. We nonetheless wanted to share our current thinking, both in the interest of transparency and in the hope of continuing to draw on the collective wisdom of our families.
Finally, we emphasize that these are our current planning assumptions and that we are still in a rapidly evolving situation. We will continue to adapt to new information as we must in a situation of this nature.
We want the students and staff to fully return to their school schedules, but also know that it may take time before it is safe to do so. No decision we ultimately make will be universally popular, but what we can promise you is that we are working night and day, relying on the best information we have to make the best choices we can.
We are still in this together, and we are all going to need to draw on the collective creativity, flexibility, patience, and selflessness that we saw on full display this spring. It really was MSB at its very best, and we are going to have to be even better this fall.
Thank you, and we hope you and your families are safe and well. We’ll be in touch with more information as soon as possible.
W. Robert Hair, Superintendent