FOX 5 cameras tour a Montgomery County middle school a week before students are set to return

For the first time since July, news cameras got to tour a Montgomery County public school ahead of the start to phased in-person instruction come March 1, which is in less than a week away.

MCPS leaders showed some of the social distancing measures, signage and technology implemented at William H. Farquhar Middle School in Olney on Tuesday. Officials also shared the school system has spent over $15 million to prepare the county’s over 200 schools for in-person instruction in the pandemic.

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Cars blared their horns in protest, packing the parking lot of MCPS and the Board of Education’s Rockville headquarters early Tuesday evening. Members and parents suppose the Montgomery County Education Association, which organized the protest, members are still not ready for a safe return.

"It hasn’t been a collaborative process. Everything is coming so late that the people who really need the information aren’t getting it. I mean it’s one thing to have a model school where you can see the ideal situation. It’s another thing to make sure that every school in the county is equipped," said MCPS music teacher and MCEA member, Isabel Hernandez-Cata.

Hernandez-Cata says they want the school system to provide specific air exchange rate information. They also want all staff to be vaccinated, they want the system to commit to a walking tour of each school and to commit to cohorts, meaning no teachers or staff would be going to different classrooms or schools.

Answering questions about some of these concerns, especially on HVAC system work transparency, the MCPS Associate Superintendent of Operations told FOX 5 she understands the challenges everyone is facing.

"Everything that we’re doing is new for all of us. It’s new for us, it’s new for our teachers, it’s new for our students and families and we know people have feelings and concerns about that. And so what we can do is continue to have those conversations," said Associate Superintendent Essie McGuire.

READ MORE: Montgomery County educators pass lack of confidence resolution over school reopening plan

MCPS Spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala said school leaders are excited to get back to in-person instruction but that this is going to take a village. The tour of Farquhar Middle School started at a 7th Grade entrance, showing how the grades will enter through different building entrance points. The school’s principal also demonstrated how the school’s technology will allow the teacher to instruct and interact with students both in-person and virtually at the same time.

Some of the extra desks and chairs were seen set up in the school’s Media Center and Cafeteria to allow a different utilization of those spaces.

MCPS says every student will get a home thermometer to check temperatures. Both families and school staff will be asked once-a-week to fill-out a Google document form, reporting any potential exposure. Officials say any students feeling sick should not be in the building. They will also have a contact tracing protocol in place with an identified area to isolate if needed.

READ MORE: Montgomery County Public Schools plan to return to in-person learning while teachers scramble to get vaccine

MCPS leaders confirmed on Tuesday, testing, while voluntary, will be done in a "pool system." The goal is to have every student in a class do a self-nasal swab test, once a week.

MCPS says they have worked with every principal and assessed every classroom starting in May.

MCPS explained more of why some of the measures they implemented were decided on at a Tuesday Board of Education meeting. Board of Education members also discussed the importance of getting more detailed information out to parents and the school community. You can watch that hearing here: