Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education delays in-person return

In Maryland’s largest school district, the Board of Education voted to once again delay the start to phased-in, in-person instruction as coronavirus cases in the country continue to grow. The new date school leaders are aiming for: February 1, 2020.

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At the start of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, recorded testimonies were played from the December 3 gathering. Several parents were heard calling for kids to get back into the classroom sooner than later. And then there was an MCPS 5th grader.

“We were learning things that we learned in 4th grade. And they’re expecting us to stay engaged in 2 by 1 boxes of reality. I mean, why do you expect some elementary kids to do that?” said Max Weiner.

The school board also updated the health matrix. They voted to start accelerating the number of students that can now return within 5 -10 and 10-15 cases per 100,000 people with a 5% or less positivity rate. At 5 cases per 100,000, Superintendent Jack Smith says schools should be fully open.

Also, a 3-phase return is out. The board voted for a two-phased approach on Tuesday, with two groups in each phase.

There is also more detail for special education and CTE programs being phased in. Board of education leaders just couldn’t say yet how much time they’ll need before bringing back the next group.

The superintendent and MCPS spokesperson said the goal is to get back to that full 5-day school week and have virtual learning for those who need it by Fall 2021. But for now, the board will meet on January 12 to decide whether they can actually start phasing in students on February 1.

The board also discussed findings in the survey they asked parents to fill-out on whether families wanted their children to stay in virtual learning or return to class.

MCPS says they had 76.7% participation. The results presented looked as though elementary school parents responded the most. It was almost 50/50 on wanting to return versus stay virtual – but when you look at the breakdowns, there appears to be more families of students of color in schools with targeted assistance, opting to stay in virtual learning.

“Will the choice that parents make for their children, virtual or in-person experience, during this transitional time, exacerbate disparities or not. I don’t know that I can speak to that with any confidence about how that might change what happens with students. But we are, we did notice that trend in the data and we are concerned about it,” said MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith.

Dr. Smith said the survey was more to craft phase-in plans but they will be monitoring the achievement gap and how students do.

Also, some 23% of parents did not respond to the survey. Those students were considered as wanting to remain virtual. County leaders said they will be reaching out to those families and others who maybe did not fill-out the survey correctly.