MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — More Montgomery County Public Schools are making the decision to briefly return to virtual learning, based on staffing concerns and COVID metrics. Sixteen MCPS facilities will remain virtual from Jan. 20 through Jan. 29, returning to in-person learning Jan. 31.
MCPS' interim superintendent Monifa McKnight has previously called virtual learning a "last resort" option.
“The challenges that are presented by COVID-19 are unlike anything our school system has ever experienced," McKnight said during Tuesday's Council meeting. "We’re all first-timers at this.”
The schools going virtual are:
- Beall Elementary School
- Briggs Chaney Middle School
- Brookhaven Elementary School
- Clopper Mill Elementary School
- Captain James E. Daly Elementary School
- Gaithersburg Elementary School
- Glenallan Elementary School
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School
- Lakelands Park Middle School
- Neelsville Middle School
- Paint Branch High School
- RICA – John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents
- Sargent Shriver Elementary School
- Twinbrook Elementary School
- Watkins Mill Elementary School
- Whetstone Elementary School
"The decision to pause in-person instruction involves the examination of a number of key factors ... ranging from specific programs to operational readiness," MCPS said in a release.
The key factors used in this decision include:
- Student attendance rate (three-day average)
- Staff absences (three-day average)
- Number of bus routes unable to provide service in both morning and afternoon (three-day average)
- Unfilled substitute requests (three-day average)
- COVID-19 cases among students and staff in the past 10 days
- Feedback from a multistakeholder group from the school community
Montgomery County schools began handing out free COVID test kits to all students on Jan. 10, with instructions not to come back for at least 10 days if the results are positive. School authorities are asking families to report test results by Friday using an online reporting form. Many parents, and county officials, pushed back, saying they wanted more than an honor system in place to their kids safe.
"We should be requiring students and staff to have a negative test before they walk in a school," Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said.
McKnight also said MCPS is handing out higher-quality KN95 masks to all students and staff.
The school district said test and mask distribution is the latest effort to keep schools open in the face of crushing staff shortages due to illness. On Jan. 10, more than 1,200 teachers called out sick and 89 bus routes were canceled, according to school authorities.
MCPS officials said parents and staff of the 16 schools impacted will be sent a letter explaining some of the specifics that helped inform the decision for that individual school. Child care programs will continue as scheduled.