Montgomery County parents press MCPS for answers about waiting list for in-person learning

Many parents in Montgomery County are continuing to sound off on why their kids are still waiting for in-person learning.

The county’s Board of Education on Tuesday decided it will continue using a weekly rotation for in-person classes, that has students in buildings for one week and at home the next, on a rotating schedule. 

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Advocates for school reopening have pushed the board to stop using the rotation model. In addition, they have been asking MCPS to modify physical distancing requirements in classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet.

Maureen Fox, an MCPS parent noted that several other area school districts have adjusted to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that says in some instances, schools can keep 3 feet of distance between students rather than 6 feet, so why can’t MCPS adjust, and do the same?

READ MORE: Montgomery County issues guidance for in-person graduation ceremonies

"3 feet, I mean versus 6 feet is a huge difference in some of these classrooms you know?," said Fox.

"Just figure it out and make it happen. I don’t understand why they’re constantly saying their hands are tied and we can’t do anything. My daughter has five children in her class so that principal should be able to make the decision and say, ‘You know? I don’t have as many returning students so my students can come every week.’"

During the board meeting, Superintendent Jack Smith acknowledged the struggles of virtual classes and efforts to bring more kids back as quickly as possible. 

READ MORE: Montgomery County Public Schools offer optional ‘virtual academy’ for next school year

Smith added, the "disruption" that would be caused by changing the schedule "is too great."

He and other MCPS administrators said that adjusting the schedule to let all students come back for in-person classes each week, would mean student schedules would often have to be changed.

"We have a school system who is essentially saying that it’s "too disruptive" to change our guidance and to accommodate students who are on a wait list and I think it’s really disappointing," said MCPS parent Laura Demeo Chace.

"It’s really disappointing and frustrating for families who have sustained this really difficult situation over the last 14 months."

As of Tuesday, Smith said there are currently 1,200 students on a wait list for space regarding in-person learning. 

"My wife has been emailing with the principal of Potomac Elementary School quite frequently and she is being told that he is first on the waiting list but at this point in time, it doesn’t look like there is any effort to adapt the CDC’s 3 foot guidance," said Ryan Chaney, whose son is supposed to start Pre-K this fall.

According to Gboyinde Onijala, MCPS spokeswoman, "schools are working quickly and closely with families to bring students from the waitlist to in-person instruction."

Onijala said the lists represent students who selected in-person instruction after the official survey closed in December 2020 and after additional opportunities were offered in January and February to make changes to preference selections. 

She said schools will use more flexible spacing guidelines in their buildings when possible to help accommodate more students in person. 

"It is important to note that while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their classroom distancing guidance from 6 feet to 3 feet, there are a number of areas where they still recommend 6 feet of distancing. We have not provided a list of schools that have waitlists as that information changes daily," Onijala explained. 

Fox 5’s Ayesha Khan checked in with Fairfax County Public Schools as well. 
The school system did not have an official number of students who might be on a waiting list for in-person learning but we were told that it’s handled school by school.

Arlington County Public Schools spokesperson, Frank Bellavia said that nearly half of all schools have cleared their waitlists completely and nearly 1,000 students have been admitted in April so far. 

Bellavia said that at the start of the week, there were 400 students remaining on school waitlists, and most of those have been or will be accommodated by early May, depending on capacity at each school, once transportation for those students is finalized.