MCPS superintendent, other Maryland school leaders seek more clarity on state COVID-19 guidelines

Weeks after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said schools can begin to reopen, school leaders are still deciding on when to do just that.

Some school officials are asking the state for more guidance and clarity on what to do after they bring kids back into the classrooms, which includes handling of outbreaks, contact tracing and vaccination requirements as they work to expand in-person learning. 

READ MORE: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan authorizes all counties to reopen schools

“We need to be talking about these things right now in terms of the state’s position on the availability and what the circumstances are,” said Dr. Jack Smith, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, during a briefing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday. 

Smith along with Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson said they’ve installed new ventilation systems, purchased protective gear and have plans to keep students socially distant.

But what Smith and other school leaders are continuing to ask is what is considered a COVID-19 outbreak? And what protocols should be in place, in addition to how to immunize students when a vaccine is ready. 

“All of these things have been discussed but once again, we are looking to the state for direction and standardization on these things,” Smith said. “There have been discussions but there have not been initial plans shared with us.”

FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan has repeatedly requested to speak with Smith via an interview but on Friday, MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala sent a statement saying that MCPS staff will return to the Montgomery County Board of Education by the end of the first quarter (Nov. 10) to recommend a reopening plan for second semester and any potential reopening before then. The MCPS community will also be informed of the proposed plan at that time. 

READ MORE: Montgomery County leaders link restrictions to safe reopening of schools

Onijala also pointed us to the plan that was submitted to the state on Aug. 14 which lays out the school system’s initial thinking for the phased-return of students to buildings in the second semester.

She explained that the school system has to look at the governor’s guidelines, their own local health guidelines and also take into consideration what is reported by the CDC. 

She said, “Broad guidance whether from the state or federal government doesn’t take into consideration local realities and we have to sift through and determine for our district what brings us the highest level of safety.”

Ayesha also contacted the Maryland Department of Health regarding what kind of plans if any there are to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine.

In a statement, we were told:

“The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) is awaiting official recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to see where teachers and students fall within the priority groups. At this time, there are no plans to mandate a COVID-19 vaccination.  

MDH is working with the Maryland State Department of Education to provide guidance to the local health departments and school systems, as well as to non-public schools. Local health departments are in regular communication with schools concerning COVID-19 cases within a jurisdiction’s school system.”

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“I’ve got an elderly dad who lives with me so I am definitely holding off,” said Mary Robinson an MCPS parent in Gaithersburg on Friday. “I am not in a rush to get back in the classroom, but I can understand why people would.”

“I’m ready for them to get back into the classroom,” remarked Maya Nelson, another MCPS parent. “I don’t think the teachers are quite ready and it’s been going smoothly right now, so I would hate for it to all fall apart or all of a sudden we have an outbreak.”