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Montgomery County students get test kits to try and keep schools open amid case surge

School officials say they will trust families to report test results on an honor system.

BETHESDA, Md. — Montgomery County schools began handing out free COVID test kits to all students Monday with instructions not to come back for at least 10 days if the results are positive. However, some parents want more than an honor system in place to their kids safe. 

The school district said test distribution is the latest effort to keep schools open in the face of crushing staff shortages due to illness. On Monday, more than 1,200 teachers called out sick and 89 bus routes were canceled, according to school authorities.

School authorities are asking families to report test results by Friday using an online reporting form and to keep anyone who tests positive at home for at least 10 days, according to a letter issued Sunday by Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight, who currently has COVID herself. 

“We are trusting our families to work with us,” school spokesman Christopher Cram said. 

But Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said the honor system is not good enough.

"We should be requiring students and staff to have a negative test before they walk in a school," Hucker said.

Hucker hosted a virtual town hall over the weekend that attracted thousands, which convinced Hucker that virtual learning should be offered as an option as well.

Student activist Zoe Cantor has circulated a petition demanding a virtual option. So far, she's attracted nearly 15,000 signatures.

“It's kind of a ghost town sometimes," Cantor said. "Some classes are filled, some classes aren't."

Cantor said she is staying home on her own.

“It just feels like a more viable option for me until cases go down and it is an excused absence right now," she said.

Montgomery County Education Association President Jennifer Martin called the staff situation a crisis, noting it's not just teachers who are sick with COVID. 

"We have building service workers out, cafeteria workers out, para educators out, bus drivers out," Martin said. "It is an extremely difficult situation.”

McKnight said she remains committed to keeping schools open, with the exception of 11 schools that were shut down due to high case rates before the school system changed its policy.

McKnight announced that schools will also be handing out higher-quality KN95 masks to all students and staff as soon as possible.

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