How COVID-19 is impacting schools in and around Bolton Hill

In June, with the city trailing the rest of the state in opening up from Gov. Larry Hogan’s original Stay at Home Order issued March 30, plans for re-opening schools in the area during the summer and fall terms are still a muddle.

Both the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and University of Baltimore (UB) made significant changes to their operations for the second half of their spring semesters. Neither school plans to revert to full classroom activities in the near future.

In mid-March, MICA made the decision to continue classes remotely, sending most residential students home. According to Public Relations Manager Emily Chappell, about 60 percent of the undergraduate population is housed on campus. Off-campus students tend to live mostly in Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, and Charles Village. 

“Generally speaking, MICA has not tracked what students have stayed in the area, with the exception of our international population where we have visa related obligations,” wrote Chappell. “Anecdotally we know that many off-campus students stayed in Baltimore through the close of the spring semester.”

To support these students, MICA maintained access to their health and counseling services and offered virtual community activities. The MICA Store on Mt. Royal Avenue, popular among Bolton Hill residents and students alike, has gradually moved operations online since the mid-March closure.

In a May 12 campus memo, MICA President Samuel Hoi shared the grim outlook for institutions of higher education around the country, noting no one would be immune. In it, Hoi outlined MICA’s R5 Roadmap—respond, reopen, recover, reimagine, remake—which is aimed to help MICA “emerge from the crisis stronger and better positioned for the future. [The R5 Roadmap] is a clear, focused, realistic, and campus-wide approach to achieve this aspiration,” the memo says. “It functions both as a shared campus mindset and a concrete action framework.”

Likely scenarios for fall academics at MICA focus on reopening in a modified operation to offer some level of on-campus education, possibly including a delayed start for the school year for some or all students.  It plans to release more concrete information on July 6.

“Incoming student counts at both the graduate and undergraduate level are reasonably in line with the previous two years,” Chappell said.  But already, MICA has reduced budgets by $1.5 million and cut salaries at all levels.

MICA has planned exhibitions for the Class of 2020 to take place during the coming academic year, allowing students to experience a physical exhibition in addition to the virtual showcases planned for later this month.

A few blocks away, University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke, in a May 29 news release, announced that the university will “run predominantly online for the fall semester, with some classes conducted in a hybrid fashion….”

American Bar Association standards, which dictate that up to one-third of law school classes can be taken remotely, are under consideration for UB’s School of Law, Schmoke said.  He emphasized University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman’s same-day announcement and plan for all USM institutions, giving each facility a great deal of latitude.

Towson University—also governed by USM— will be starting classes a week earlier than normal and ending in-person instruction at Thanksgiving Break. Classes and exams will continue remotely until the end of term.  UB already offered many of its classes and programs online—or in a hybrid format—which helped inform their remote instruction decision for the fall.

Baltimore City Public Schools, which operate Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School and in part the Midtown Academy in Bolton Hill, have also shifted their operations in the last few months, and will continue to do so moving forward.  No official decisions have been made for the fall academic term.  The Sun has outlined some of the prevailing ideas, including schools at lowered capacity and staggered returns to in-person learning based on grade level.

Midtown Academy moved registration to an electronic system last month and organized a personal item pick-up day (June 11) for student belongings at their W. Mount Royal Avenue building. Summer workbooks also were distributed.

Mount Royal has continued operating per City Schools guidelines, including an ease in fourth quarter grading guidance, which will allow for the first three quarters’ scores to more heavily factor into a student’s year-end grade.  The school is also holding a Virtual Scholastic Book Fair, which will run through Sept. 4.  The City also developed a Pandemic-EBT program, supporting households with $114/month in benefits for each school-aged child.

–Atticus Rice