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Montgomery Co. Public Schools moves 11 schools to virtual, outline 3-tiered approach as COVID cases rise

School board members outlined their plan to deal with rising cases in a meeting Tuesday.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Montgomery County Public Schools will return to school after an extended winter break, thanks to two snow days, with 11 of its schools returning virtually after those schools had more than 5% of students and staff testing positive over the last two weeks, per the school district.

5,600 COVID-19 cases were reported across Montgomery County Public Schools over winter break. On Tuesday board members highlighted new steps being taken to address rising case numbers, while keeping students in classrooms.

The new plan won't force the entire district to move to virtual learning. Instead, it will monitor cases on a school-by-school basis.

MCPS officials outlined a new three-tiered system for monitoring cases across all the district's 209 schools. 

Under the new system, schools will be put in three categories: Green, yellow and red. In determining which categories each school will be in, officials will look at students testing positive, students and faculty in quarantine and COVID-19 levels in the community. All schools will get rapid tests and KN95 masks weekly.

Here's how it works:

Schools would be considered in the green if they have under 3% of faculty and staff reporting positive in the last 14 days. School board officials reported 109 schools were green on Tuesday. 

Yellow schools would have 3% to 5% of students and faculty testing positive in the last 14 days. Currently, 89 schools in Montgomery County are considered to be in the yellow.

Schools in the red category have over 5% of faculty and staff testing positive over the last 14 days. At the red level, the school district will consult with Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services to assess the next steps. Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight said it will likely mean virtual learning for 14 calendar days.

Eleven schools are currently in the red and will move to virtual learning starting Wednesday.

  • Cannon Road Elementary School
  • Forest Knolls Elementary School
  • Hallie Wells Middle School in Clarksburg 
  • Monocacy Elementary School in Dickerson
  •  North Chevy Chase Elementary School
  • Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown
  • Rock Terrace School in Rockville
  • Rosemont Elementary School in Gaithersburg
  • Seneca Valley High School in Germantown
  • Sherwood Elementary School in Sandy Spring
  • Waters Landing Elementary School in Germantown

“It's hard and it sucks, but it’s not unexpected," Alexis Schwartz, a Forest Knolls Elementary School parent said of the announcement her children's school would revert to virtual. “It was really hard this morning to hear first of all at 8 a.m. we were one of those 11 schools and having to transition immediately."

Many parents said they found the news some schools were reverting to virtual learning unexpected, and that they had a feeling it would happen. However, some parents are upset, confused, and feeling overwhelmed at the last minute.

“I’m very upset for my kids because the virtual learning last year was a disaster. My husband and I work full time, so we don’t have anyone to supervise them," Kelli Keith said. "We just found out today, so don’t really know, don’t have a plan.”

Dr. McKnight said they are prioritizing student health and safety, without disrupting learning.

“Many of our employees are testing positive for COVID19,” McKnight said. “These absences are difficult to accommodate in light of existing staffing shortages.”

Dr. Mcknight said the school district intends for the schools transitioning to virtual learning to return to in-person learning after the 14 days.

"We want it to be very differentiated in our thought around how we would support schools to keep them safe and healthy, but at the same time protect the interests of teaching and learning," Dr. McKnight said.

The idea of the district's new approach is not to force a one-size-fits-all approach to Maryland's largest school district.

“It feels like a lot of time these COVID policies our kids are bearing the brunt of them whereas other non-essential workplaces and gyms and bars and other things stay open, but our kids have to be the ones who don’t get to develop as human beings," Schwartz said.

RELATED: LIST: Schools returning to distance learning as COVID case counts rise

RELATED: Maryland Athletics to require vaccination for all indoor sporting events, university says

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