Watchdog group demands more community transparency after 61 MCPS employees test positive for COVID-19 

A parent watchdog group in Montgomery County is asking why their school district didn’t tell the public about positive COVID-19 cases occurring within the school system.

The Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County found that 61 Montgomery County Public Schools employees had tested positive for the virus, leading to the closure of nine MCPS buildings.

The parents' group sent FOX 5 supporting documentation of cases going all the way back to the beginning of March and as recent as the middle of this month. 

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FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan confirmed the cases with MCPS spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala, who said the employees tested positive between March 12 and September 10.

In accordance with MCPS practices, all buildings are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized following reports of a staff member's COVID-19 positive test.

The closed school buildings include:

• Snowden Farm Elementary

• Weller Road Elementary

• Martin Luther King Middle

• Montgomery Knolls Elementary

• Jackson Road Elementary

• Wilson Wims Elementary

• Emory Grove Center

• Laytonsville Elementary

• Bethesda Maintenance Depot

Onijala said that only individuals with direct contact with an employee who reported a positive COVID test are notified. This is a standard process and that they are following county guidance very closely.

She said that buildings remain closed to the public — but if there is concern regarding community exposure, they would send a message to that specific community.

Janis Sartucci who is with the coalition said that some of the buildings were also used as cooling centers over the summer.

“In the big picture this is still a global pandemic that affects all of us,” said Sartucci. “We all need to know what’s going on in our community where the virus is and where it’s being transmitted and going forward what’s going to be the reporting from MCPS?”

Onijala said that if a site is used by the county as a cooling center, it would be an emergency situation coordinated at the county level.

“There’s no indication that this information will be forthcoming as we move closer and closer to a return to public school and students going back in the buildings and being supervised by public school teachers what’s going to be the level of transparency?”

We also checked in with Loudoun County Public Schools regarding the reporting of cases within the district. The school system said in a statement:

“Since March 2020, LCPS has notified the public regarding all staff members, students and visitors to LCPS facilities who have informed us that they tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

We have continued this practice out of our commitment to transparency to Loudoun County residents and, during a time when there is uncertainty about so many topics, this is one piece of information that we can provide that may help people have a better understanding regarding what’s happening in their community. By raising awareness of positive cases, this information also reinforces the importance of extending community care to one another by following public health mitigation practices, such as physical distancing and face coverings.

As of Sept. 28 LCPS has issued 105 notices about 99 staff members, three students and three non-student visitors to LCPS facilities who have tested positive.”

A spokesperson with Fairfax County Public Schools said that the school system consults with their health department first before notifying the public — but they did not say how many times they have revealed that information to the public.