As public schools across Maryland prepare to close for two weeks to limit the spread of coronavirus, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Brookins Santelises outlined how the system will provide meals for students and educational packets while they are at home.
All Maryland public schools will be closed from Monday, March 16, to Friday, March 27, State Schools Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced Thursday afternoon during a press conference in which Gov. Larry Hogan announced a list of “major actions” the state is taking to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
At a press conference Friday morning, Santelises said the closure of schools is “a very, very serious matter” and “is not our first choice” but she believes Hogan and Salmon “did not weigh this decision lightly” and that she respects the move based on guidance from health officials.
“As always, our paramount concern continues to be the safety of our young people and our Baltimore City students and families,” Santelises said.
During that two-week period, all school activities, including school day instruction, child care, health services, enrichment, extracurricular activities, preschool, athletics and club sports are cancelled, Santelises said.
Starting Monday, City Schools will operate 10 food distribution sites throughout the city to provide free breakfast and lunch to all children 18 years old and younger, as well as to people with disabilities over the age of 18 who participate in school programs. Those distribution sites will be open from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday through Friday of next week.
The meal sites include:
- Sandtown-Winchester Achievement Academy
701 Gold St.
- Dorothy I. Height Elementary School
2011 Linden Ave.
- Alexander Hamilton Elementary School
800 Poplar Grove St.
- The Historic Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School
801 Bridgeview Road
- Yorkwood Elementary School
5931 Yorkwood Road
- John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School
701 Rappolla St.
- Arlington Elementary School
3705 W. Rogers Ave.
- Beechfield Elementary/Middle School
301 S. Beechfield Ave.
- Sinclair Lane Elementary School
3880 Sinclair Lane
- Paul Laurence Dunbar High School
1400 Orleans St.
These will not be group meals, rather they will be provided in the form of takeout and grab-and-go packages in accordance with guidance from the Maryland Department of Health regarding social distancing and limiting contact with large groups, Santelises said.
The school district is working with partners and Baltimore City’s emergency food working group to identify additional food distribution and access options for the week of March 23, and City Schools will update community members when more information becomes available, Santelises said.
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa commended Santelises for the steps City Schools is taking to provide “nutritious and balanced meals” to students during school closures.
“The importance for food access for our city students cannot be overstated… We recognize food access and insecurity as a major challenge for a lot of city residents,” Dzirasa said.
City Schools staff will also provide instructional work packets by grade level for all students, which will be available online starting Monday or for pickup at a child’s school from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
Santelises said the packets would have been sent home with children, but City Schools are closed today due to a previously scheduled professional staff development day.
The packets will not be graded, but Santelises urged families to still have their children complete them.
“Although this work is voluntary, I strongly encourage families to pick up their child’s packet, either physically from the school or online, to help sustain their educational involvement during the period of closure,” she said.
Packets will include adaptations for students with disabilities and instructions translated into five different languages. City Schools will also be developing newcomer packets for students who have recently arrived in the school system, Santelises said.
While schools are closed, custodial staff and supplemental crews will deep clean 153 school buildings and offices, disinfecting high touch points and high traffic areas in those buildings, Santelises said.
Santelises said school transportation staff will also be deep cleaning and disinfecting City Schools’ 38 district-owned fleet buses. City Schools has also instructed contracted bus operators to perform the same procedures on the estimated 350 buses in the school system’s contractor fleet, and has instructed taxi cab companies to do the same. The school district uses about 400 taxi cabs daily to transport students.
The school system has ordered and is receiving “significant quantities” of disinfectant, soap, hand sanitizers, paper towels and gloves, Santelises said.
Santelises said City Schools is in conversations with state officials and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young to determine where the school system’s 80,000 students should go if their parents and families cannot arrange childcare.
But she said the challenge is that the public is encouraged to avoid large gatherings such as the large group settings that young people would normally go during school closures, such as recreation centers.
Dzirasa said the Baltimore City Health Department is tracking the number of people under investigation for possible cases of coronavirus, but she is not at liberty to share how many people in Baltimore City are under investigation or have self-quarantined.
Dzirasa said there is currently no positive case of COVID-19 in Baltimore City, as of about 9:45 a.m. Friday.
All people should continue implementing “personal protective behaviors,” including washing heads regularly with soap and warm water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, wiping down frequently touched surfaces, and throwing away tissues after use, Dzirasa said.
Santelises said this is an “incredibly fluid situation” and people can stay up-to-date on City Schools’ response to the coronavirus at baltimorecityschools.org/health-updates. People can also call the school system’s hotline at (443) 984-2000 or email [email protected]
City Schools’ emergency response team has been planning for various scenarios, including system closure, for the past several months.
Daunting as it may seem, Baltimore will get through this public health emergency, Santelises said.
“This is a period of challenge, but the City Schools family and Baltimore City at large have continued to weather many a storm and I am most confident that we will weather this one as well,” she said.
“The great part about being in Baltimore City in a challenging time like this, is our city has continued to prove the power of organizing around our collective strengths and our care for our neighbors and for one another,” she added.