by Reade Fenner ’22
The United States has been battling COVID-19 since January, with schools throughout the country being forced to close from mid-March until the end of the school year. Although Montgomery County adapted to these circumstances by teaching students online, as the August 31 approaches, there are many questions as to how the 2020-2021 school year will begin. On July 11, MCPS sent out a potential recovery plan to staff, parents, and students explaining how education may resume in the fall. However, the county does not have to submit its final decision to the state until August 14.
MCPS plans to start the school year completely online. However, as the state begins to get more of a handle on COVID-19 and is able to train teachers and staff for schools to reopen, the county plans to allow students to return in two to four week intervals. In high schools, ninth graders and special education students will go back first. They will be followed by tenth grade students after two to four weeks. Another few weeks later, MCPS plans to allow juniors and seniors to return as well. The county hopes that all students will be phased in by the end of November.
As students are gradually brought back to high school in stages, the county plans to adopt a schedule that blends virtual and in-school learning. This includes a schedule with three groups. For instance, Group A will have half their classes in person while Groups B and C have half of their classes from home. For the second portion of the day, a different group will go into school for the other half of their classes. Each rotation lasts three weeks, allowing each group four in-person lessons per cycle. The county has reserved Wednesdays for teacher planning and grading as well as individualized student support. The groups will also have two homeroom sessions per rotation.
If a student or parent is concerned about returning to school due to COVID-19, the county has also offered a model that only includes virtual learning. This option allows students to have classes for periods one through four on Mondays and Thursdays, while periods six through eight are taught on Tuesdays and Fridays. Similar to the blended learning plan, this model designates Wednesdays for grading and student support.
Elementary and middle schools will also allow students to choose between blended and entirely virtual learning. However, these schools will only have two groups of students and cycles that last one week.
The county has also taken health precautions regarding transportation into consideration. School buses that typically hold 50 students will now, with physical distancing requirements in mind, be limited to 12 students. As this reduces the number of students MCPS is able to transport by bus, elementary and middle school students will be prioritized.
After reading the recovery plan MCPS is considering, parents have expressed numerous concerns. They worry about the county’s plans to hold student lunch in classrooms, uncertain as to how teachers and students will be protected from the spread of COVID-19 during this time. Parents have also voiced doubts about the county having enough teachers, as many may choose not to return to in-person instruction if given a choice.
This concern is confirmed in a letter written to Gov. Hogan and Dr. Salmon, the State Superintendent of Schools. In this statement, statewide teacher unions and activist organizations expressed their objection to the county’s plan to phase students back into in school instruction. Instead, the groups requested that school be completely virtual until at least the end of first semester. They argue that, as almost a quarter of teachers are considered at risk for COVID-19, a semester of online school is necessary to ensure staff safety.