MCPS announces virtual-only learning for first semester of school year

By Taylor Haber

MCPS will begin the 2020–2021 school year virtually, Superintendent Jack R. Smith said in a July 21 email to community members. County officials plan to keep students home until the end of the first semester and will reassess second semester plans in November.

Officials made the decision after deliberating with county and state health experts and surveying the opinions of students, staff and parents.

“Given this updated guidance,” Smith wrote in the email, “the safest choice for our district is to remain in a virtual-only instructional model through the first semester or until state and local health officials determine conditions in our county allow for students to return safely.” 

The superintendent’s office will provide a more detailed version of its proposal to the Board of Education on August 6, after the plan accounts for feedback from stakeholder groups and health experts.

The decision comes one day after Dr. Travis Gayles, the school district’s county health officer, advised local officials to keep schools closed at least until the end of the first marking period.

“Based upon the current state of surveillance and epidemiological data, I would not recommend in-person instruction for students inside school buildings,” Gayles said. “I recommend investing in a virtual instruction model.” 

Though instruction will remain virtual throughout the winter, essential programs are scheduled to proceed as normal through school buildings. These include meal services, certain childcare providers, and technology and material access initiatives. 

The decision to close schools also includes the cancellation of all fall and winter sports, Smith wrote. Many rising senior athletes are disappointed that their time with their teams is being cut short.

“It hurts to think I will never have the chance to lead my high school team through a season,” said rising senior Tyler Chapman, who plays point guard on the varsity basketball team. “All athletes look forward to their senior year season, and learning that it isn’t happening was definitely disappointing.

MCPS plans to provide assistance to students who lack the digital infrastructure for online learning and teachers who struggle with virtual instruction.

“Our staff is being provided additional professional development to enhance their instructional abilities in a virtual model,” wrote Smith. “we have put systems in place to ensure all students have access to digital devices and access to the internet when they are away from school buildings.”

While students understand the health-related benefits of these precautions, some feel they are losing valuable social and academic experiences of high school life, said rising senior Eli Blanks. 

“I’m in charge of one of the a cappella groups and I was going to try out for drum line, and there was all this stuff I was really excited for,” he said. “There’s all these different opportunities that we were going to have as seniors, and now we don’t get them.”