skip to main content

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III


Through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Aid Relief, referred to as ESSER III, the Howard County Public School System has been awarded a multiyear grant to support safe reopening, sustain the safe operation of schools and equitably expand opportunities for students greatly impacted by learning losses from COVID-19 pandemic.

Grant amount: $43,537,970

Performance period: 3/24/2021 – 9/30/2024

The ESSER III grant award will be disbursed in two phases:

  • Phase 1: $28,996,288, which is equal to two-thirds of the total award
  • Phase 2: $14,541,682, the remaining one-third, will be disbursed after the U.S. Department of Education approves the Maryland State Department of Education’s plan.

Grant Summary

Per the U.S Department of Education, ESSER III funds “are available for a wide range of activities to address diverse needs arising from or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, or to emerge stronger postpandemic, including responding to students’ social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs.” The broad array of needs for which the funds can be used have been organized into three general groups: Student Supports; Safe School Reopening, and Safe School Operations. In addition, there are grant compliance, grant hiring supports, and benefit costs.

A summary of the approved use of funds is shown below with examples of planned uses. The full grant application and grant budget provides details on specific uses and costs, and can be found online.

Allocation of ESSER III Funds Pie Chart (March 2021 - September 2024). Student Supports ($25,000,000) and Safe School Operations ($14,100,000) combined represent 90% of the pie. The table below details the fund allocation across the remaining categories.

Grant Summary Table

  Amount Examples of Uses
Student Supports $25,097,179
  • Summer School Intervention
  • Early Childhood & Literacy
  • Compensatory services
  • Instruction software
  • One-to-One device support and technology
Safe School Operations $14,125,040
  • HEPA filters
  • HVAC projects
  • School Nurses
  • PPE
School Reopening $917,000
  • Cafeteria tents
  • Recess monitors
Grant Management and Operations Support $1,016,250
  • Human Resources staffing
  • Finance staffing
  • Grant reporting and compliance
Benefits $2,382,502
  • Employee benefits costs for all grant positions
TOTAL $43,537,970  

Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services

In alignment with guidance and expectations provided by the Maryland State Department of Education, all students were provided the opportunity to receive fully in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. Additionally, HCPSS developed a fully digital option, the Digital Education Center (DEC), serving approximately 500 students in grades K-6 this year.

The efforts of all HCPSS staff continue to be grounded in equity, and embody the HCPSS Strategic Call to Action, with decisions guided by three primary priorities: safety and well-being of our students and staff members; high-quality instruction for all students, including those most vulnerable, for academic recovery and acceleration; and resource availability, including staffing and funding.

While HCPSS is largely focused on in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year, the school system is simultaneously building on the lessons learned during the pandemic and new technological capabilities to enhance digital offerings available in the future. The technology acquired leveraging CARES Act funding opens many innovative possibilities for expanding and enhancing equitable instructional opportunities for all students.

Maintaining Health and Safety

HCPSS will continue to implement measures to safeguard physical well-being, making decisions on masking and other health and safety protocols with careful consideration for the Howard County Health Department guidance.

Universal Indoor Masking

In August 2021, HCPSS announced that masks are required in all buildings and buses for all students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are not required for any students or staff while eating/drinking indoors. Masks also are not required outdoors, however they are recommended for unvaccinated individuals.

Vaccination / Testing

HCPSS Employees

All HCPSS employees—including full- and part-time staff, permanent substitutes, long-term substitutes, lunch/recess monitors and translators—are required to provide proof of full vaccination or undergo regular weekly COVID-19 testing.

Contracted Service Providers

Contracted staff who work for before- and after-care and other service providers, such as bus drivers, are required to implement a vaccine or testing requirement for employees.

Student Athletes

All student-athletes in grades 9–12 are required to provide proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing in order to participate. This requirement begins with the start of winter athletics practices.

Volunteers and Classroom Observers

The following groups are required to show proof of full vaccination at least five school days in advance:

  • Volunteers and chaperones who interact with students
  • Parents/guardians who conduct classroom observations
  • Professional individuals or groups who come into the school during the school day to provide enhancements and support to instruction such as musical performers and guest speakers.

Details on volunteer/observer vaccine requirements are available online.

Student Well-Being

Student well-being is an ongoing priority for all HCPSS staff. Student support staff in schools leverage the resources provided by HCPSS, partner organizations and community providers to monitor student well-being and respond to instances where students require assistance. Using FY21 and FY22 Trauma and Behavioral Health grant funds, HCPSS this school year will pilot a well-being screening tool in its middle schools to help ensure students who have experienced trauma are identified and supported. Their ongoing well-being will be tracked with an addition to the HCPSS student data management system, paid for by ARP-funded Trauma and Behavioral Health grants.

Facilities Air Quality 

HCPSS implemented a combination of measures to improve building ventilation at each school, including portable HEPA fan/filtration units to provide auxiliary air cleaning in each school’s COVID isolation room, and in portable classrooms where outdoor air is not introduced through the HVAC unit. The HVAC units serving all student-occupied areas of HCPSS school buildings and all other portable classrooms provide outdoor air ventilation. In addition, HCPSS has additional portable HEPA fan/filtration units on order to deploy as necessary, however, all spaces that currently require one due to inability to meet ventilation guidelines are fully equipped with portable HEPA fan/filtration units.

It is HCPSS’ intent to utilize the $7,600,000 in ARP ESSER program funds allocated to the school system to improve indoor air quality by enabling targeted HVAC systems to provide adequate outdoor air ventilation under all conditions while maintaining acceptable indoor air relative humidity. Work has already begun and will be completed within the grant period. An additional $3,000,000 will be used to purchase air purifiers with HEPA filters for every HCPSS classroom as well as the cafeterias.

The following improvements to building ventilation already have been implemented at all schools:

  1. Air filters having a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of MERV 13 have been installed in all HVAC units wherever possible.
  2. Outdoor air ventilation has been maximized at all schools by ensuring that outdoor air dampers, airside economizers, and exhaust fans are working properly in all HVAC units. Air bypass around 16 air filters has also been addressed in all HVAC units to ensure that all air passes through the air filters and not around them.
  3. HVAC system run times have been extended, starting two hours before school occupancy through two hours after school occupancy, to flush schools with additional outdoor air ventilation prior to students’ arrival and after their departure.
  4. HVAC units provide approximately six room air changes per hour durin student-occupied hours.
  5. Demand-controlled ventilation has been disabled to ensure that 100% of the outdoor airflow designed for each space will be continuously delivered whenever schools are occupied.
  6. HVAC system energy recovery units have been disabled during times of non-extreme summer and winter conditions to prevent any exhaust air from being re-entrained into the outdoor air ventilation.
  7. Portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration units have been installed in the isolation room in each school’s health suite, as described above.
  8. Carbon dioxide (CO2) sensors with data logging capabilities have been installed in all school cafeterias. The level of CO2 in the room air, measured in parts per million (ppm) CO2, provides an indication of the effectiveness of the outdoor air ventilation in diluting airborne contaminants.

Personal Protective Equipment 

HCPSS anticipates using approximately $863,380 for continued purchases of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and students and plexiglass and other barriers to supplement social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19. This includes the purchase of PPE and barriers for music instruction, which will take place prior to and during the 2021-2022 school year. Other PPE will be replaced as needed throughout the following two school years.

Additional Staffing 

To ensure continued excellence in providing health services to students, approximately

$1,905,443 in ARP ESSER funds will be used to fund the salary and benefits of five additional nurses and two additional health assistants over the next three years. It is anticipated that ongoing COVID-19 related duties will continue to occupy existing health services staff; with additional staffing HCPSS can ensure student’s daily health needs continue to be met even as nurses are involved in assessing potential COVID-19 instances, quarantining and contact tracing.

Approximately $567,000 in wages and $43,376 in Federal Insurance Contributions Act funds (FICA) will be used to hire two additional recess monitors for each of the 42 HCPSS elementary schools for the 2021-2022 school year. This extra supervision will allow a maximum number of students to eat lunch outside, weather permitting, which will reduce the risk of transmission when students are maskless and eating.

HCPSS will also use $215,769 in supply and material costs and $134,231 in contracted service costs to purchase and rent 75 tents that will provide students with consistent access to outdoor eating areas. Along with the recess monitors, the tents will maximize the number of students who can eat lunch outside and minimize transmission risk when students are maskless and eating.

Additionally, $272,160 in workshop wages and $20,820 in FICA will be used to hire two bus monitors at each of HCPSS’ 42 elementary schools. The monitors are needed due to the national bus driver shortage, which has caused HCPSS to rely on double bus runs at many schools. Monitors will facilitate students boarding and exiting the correct buses in a manner that minimizes the risk of transmission among HCPSS students and staff, as well as between HCPSS students and bus drivers. The monitors also will help ensure that all proper COVID-19 protocols are being followed on the buses, including that proper ventilation is being provided through open bus windows.

Resources and Information