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Here's what Montgomery County schools could look like if they reopen in the fall

Montgomery school leaders set up a Rockville elementary school to workshop how schools could keep students and staff safe from coronavirus.

ROCKVILLE, Md. — What will schools look like if students go back in the fall? That's the question on every parent and teacher's mind right now. 

Montgomery County gave WUSA9 a first look on Thursday, as school and health officials try to figure it out.

But there's still plenty of debate among parents and teachers about the safest way for children to learn during a pandemic.

"We can sit in the school bus, every other seat," Essie McGuire, associate superintendent for operations, said as she had staffers demonstrate how empty a school bus would be under the health guidelines. 

She said capacity would be cut to just 25%.

RELATED: VA teacher, COVID-19 survivor opposes full school reopening

Once they got to school, students would have to line up outside six feet apart. At College Gardens Elementary in Rockville, workers have already marked off spots at intervals outside the front door.

In a kindergarten classroom, there would be room for just 12 to 15 students. 

"These tables are six feet long, so if you have a chair at either end of them, they would be six feet apart," McGuire said inside a crowded classroom.

In higher grades, lunch would be in the classroom and there would be fewer children. 

"The desks are configured again to be about six feet apart," McGuire said, showing off second-grade classroom. 

Credit: WUSA9
Desks will be six feet apart.

But if the tour of College Gardens was designed to calm worried parents, administrators still have a lot of work to do.

"I would say we're extremely concerned," Adam Tamashasky, a writing lecturer at American University and a father of three girls in Montgomery County schools, said. "I have yet to see evidence that things have changed in some significant way in terms of vaccine, or effective treatment, or rapid testing or tracing."

Ella Tamashasky,14, is in middle school, and she's been listening to her mom, a physician's assistant who has treated patients with COVID-19. 

"I'm kind of worried about going back, because my school, in particular, has very small classrooms and hallways," Ella said. "I don't really feel like there's a way, at least right now, that we can do that safely."

Credit: WUSA9
Students will have to keep six feet of distance when entering school.

Dianna Pizarro, a Bethesda mother of two, said hybrid teaching, where students attend in person for a few days and then work remotely for the rest of the week, would not work well for her, or many other working parents. Pizarro works at the World Bank, and she said the U.S. should be looking closely at how other countries that have reopened schools did it.

But she said she worries about her youngest daughter. 

"My 7-year-old, even now, any time you take her out to a restaurant, she touches everything, touches her face, no matter how many times you tell them that," Pizarro said. 

We're still waiting for the results of countywide parent and staff surveys that just closed.

Dear Parents, Guardians, Students and Staff: Happy Father's Day! We want to thank all of our MCPS fathers for all you do for the children and youth in our community. You are appreciated. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) recently released an updated version of Maryland Together: Maryland's Recovery Plan for Education.

Some parents are convinced school buildings can reopen safely and they're eager for that to happen. 

"They need to go back to school, I strongly, strongly believe this," Helen Barold, a cardiologist and single mom, said. "It’s hard for women to maintain their jobs and still have their kids learning. So we’re seeing our country set back decades because of this." 

Barold said she's been able to safely reopen her medical practice, and she's convinced that in consultation with medical experts, the schools can do the same thing.

Credit: WUSA9
Bus capacity will be cut down to about 25% with kids sitting in every other seat.

Montgomery County is still considering a number of different scenarios: remote learning, a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, and in-person with social distancing.

The superintendent is promising to have more detailed plans ready by the middle of July.

RELATED: CDC: Guidelines for reopening schools aren't being rewritten

RELATED: Education Secretary slams Fairfax County Schools, says all schools must reopen in the fall

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