The Archdiocesan Building in downtown Baltimore. Image via Google Street View.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore on Friday released a plan for its Catholic schools that has teachers and staff coming back on Aug. 24 and students returning for classes one week later.

In-person instruction and meals will take place five days a week, but students are given the option of synchronous remote learning or a hybrid model if they do not feel safe attending school in person.

Some schools will start the year on a hybrid model due to building size and staffing.

The archdiocese said the plan to return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic was developed with guidelines from state and local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Catholic schools have the ability to safely return to in-person instruction due to their facility and enrollment size,” Dr. Donna Hargens, superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said in a statement. “A significant investment in technology, infrastructure, and professional development, as well as the adoption of a variety of risk mitigation methods, are key factors in our school system’s ability to offer all three modes of operation (in-person, hybrid, and remote).”

Each school will develop schedules to “(1) maximize in-person learning in a physically
safe environment, (2) prioritize in-person learning for lower grades, and (3) provide a synchronous remote learning option for all families,” the archdiocese said.

Teachers will be provided with guidelines to safely set up classrooms and engage with students, and technology for conducting classes virtually, the archdiocese said. The organization has already purchased 1,000 AMX Acendo Vibe camera/sound bar units to broadcast classes for students learning remotely.

According to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, more than 25,000 students are enrolled at the organization’s 45 elementary and middle schools, and 19 high schools spread across the Baltimore region.

In the city, the archdiocese operates nine elementary and middle schools, two co-ed high schools, two boys’ high schools and two girls’ high schools.

Through the Partners in Excellence program, the Archdiocese of Baltimore distributes $1.2 million toward the cost of tuition for 600 students in the city.

Under the 13-page plan, students and staff will be screened for symptoms of the coronavirus and have their temperature checked before entering a school building.

Everyone age 3 and older is required to wear a cloth face mask once inside, and masks are required outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

Hand washing is required before and after meals and encouraged throughout the school day. Stations for hand sanitizer will also be placed throughout school buildings.

Bookcases, filing cabinets and other non-essential items will be removed from classrooms so desks for students can be properly spaced. In spaces where distancing of 3-to-6 feet is not possible–the plan shows a picture of a bathroom sink–physical barriers will be installed to prevent the spread of the disease.

Recess will resume with distancing measures in place, and playground equipment will be disinfected after each class cohort uses it.

In the buildings themselves, the archdiocese plans to have directional signs and designated entry and exit points to promote distancing. All schools will have isolation areas for students and staff experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Many public school systems in the area have opted to start the year online. Baltimore City Public Schools will begin classes on Sept. 8 and possibly extend online learning for the rest of the semester.

Baltimore, Howard, Harford and Anne Arundel counties have announced they will use virtual learning for at least the first semester.

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...

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