Board of Education approves MCPS’ plan for in-person learning

By Zoe Cantor

The Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously confirmed the modified framework to re-open schools — beginning on February 1 — in a meeting today.

The Board announced the original framework in early November, where the initial phase-in was set to start on January 12. Board members originally proposed opening schools before the second semester to aid special education students. 

MCPS administered a county-wide survey to parents, a factor that played into the Board’s decision, allowing them to choose whether their children would integrate into an in-person environment or continue virtual learning.

The revised metrics will allow certain groups of students to return to brick and mortar from the initial threshold of below 15 cases per 100,000 county residents and the positivity rate below five percent. It also permits all students who opted for hybrid learning to return in person when case numbers are between five and ten per 100,000 residents, said Chief of Engagement, Innovation and Operations Derek Turner.

Despite the quick integration of students back into the classroom, MCPS’ survey results showed that 60 percent of students have opted to remain entirely virtual in the second semester. Some parents didn’t fill out the survey, resulting in an automatic enrollment to the all virtual model.

Of the parents who responded to the survey, 50 percent chose their child’s option to return, with the remaining deciding that their child will continue to learn exclusively online. 

“If there’s a vaccine that can be distributed in time, I would be so excited to go back,” sophomore Julia Schreiber said. “But if we go back before most people are vaccinated, we’ll have to shut down again pretty quickly.”

The in-person learning structure will provide transportation for students who need it and station health professionals at all MCPS buildings, said MCPS Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools Dr. Janet Wilson, who will ensure that public schools adhere to CDC safety protocols.

Similar to the previous  framework, the first group of pupils to return will be special education students. However, elementary and middle school students, high school seniors and students enrolled in career and technical education programs will now be among the next to follow. 

“I’m looking forward to being able to go back to school because I know I learn much better in person,” junior Jenna Fields said. “I’m just worried if the guidelines put in place are enough.”

The Board will take further action on the decision, specifying if the framework and opening date will still be achievable, during a January 12 meeting.

“We will learn from the initial group phase and efforts,” Wilson said. “We will use those learnings to inform the phase and timeline going forward.”