Parents applaud return to in-person learning but question presence of 'classroom monitors'

After nearly a year of online learning, many parents in the D.C. region are thrilled that their kids will begin returning to some form of in-person learning. Many of them are going back as soon as next week, others will begin next month.

But just because kids are going back, it doesn’t mean they will be sitting in a classroom being taught by a teacher.

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Schools in Maryland and Virginia are hiring "classroom monitors" who will assist with school staffing — in some cases monitoring classrooms as students continue virtual lessons.

FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan spoke with some parents about this idea and it seems there were some mixed feelings.

Some of them are parents of children within Montgomery County Public Schools and have taken their questions and concerns to social media within groups made up of parents discussing MCPS matters including a return to in-person learning.

Some parents wanted to know what does having a classroom monitor mean from a health and safety point of view for their child?—meaning will the classroom monitors be vetted and vaccinated in the same way as a teacher would be? Others are asking about the point of sending their child back into the classroom if all they’re going to do is continue learning virtually while being monitored by someone who isn’t their teacher.

"The teachers are getting vaccinated but these aides they (MCPS) are hiring are not," said Margery Smelkinson who has four children enrolled as students within MCPS. "It’s a little strange that the teachers don’t find the buildings safe enough but the monitors would be safe enough? It doesn’t make much sense."

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

As far as COVID risks are concerned, Dr. Helen Barold, a cardiologist who also happens to be an MCPS parent said that transmission is not going to be an issue in the classroom with monitors as long as mitigation procedures are being followed. 

"We have schools that have gone back in the United States, private schools that have gone back in our area where the rate of transmission is very low and the covid cases are decreasing across our area dramatically because of increased masking," said Barold. 

MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said the school system is looking to hire anywhere from 700 to 800 classroom monitors.

She said monitors will be working closely with other school staff (teachers, support professionals, administrators, counselors, etc) to support in-person learning.

READ MORE: Vaccines may not be available for Montgomery County Public Schools staff for up to 5 weeks: health officials

Onijala also said that all MCPS employees undergo a rigorous background check so all monitors will be fully vetted per standard practice. 

"As you know, vaccine doses are very limited at the state and county level at this time," said Onijala in a written statement. "Many of our staff are in need of vaccines and the county has shared, that doses for MCPS staff will not be available for up to 5 weeks so it is hard to say whether all of these monitors would have received vaccinations by the time they start."

Onijala continued to say that schools will be using a variety of instructional approaches. There could be a teacher and a monitor in the classroom, or an administrator with a monitor, a teacher on screen and a monitor in person (with other staff members dropping in to provided additional support).

READ MORE: Thousands of Fairfax County teachers to work from home despite district's plan to send students back

Just across the river, Fairfax County Public Schools are also looking to hire classroom monitors.

According to spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell, the school system has hired more than 600 classroom monitors and has openings for 200 more. 

A virtual career fair is scheduled for Friday.

Caldwell also provided a description of the role:

Provides in-person classroom assistance to a school or center assisting a virtual teacher with conducting classroom activities; works with individual and small groups of students; operates technology to include cameras, learning platforms, and learning tools; helps maintain order and discipline and assists in managing the behavior of students; provides supervision throughout the school day including in the classroom, halls, lunch, recess, and specials; performs administrative and noninstructional duties, such as keeping daily attendance; and ensures all CDC/safety protocols and procedures (e.g., fire drills) are implemented and followed.

The classroom monitor will be under the direct supervision of school administration and will work closely with the classroom teacher and grade-level team to ensure continuity of instruction and a Supportive learning environment.

Caldwell said that classroom monitors are eligible for the vaccine.