After months of consideration, MCPS Board of Education delays schools reopening


By Zoe Cantor

The Montgomery County Board of Education delayed reopening public schools to March 15 — exactly one year after schools closed due to the pandemic — in a meeting today.

Despite the postponement, schools would only resume in-person instruction if the county meets established health metrics or if officials recalibrate public safety guidelines as a result of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The county will make a final decision no later than February 23, Superintendent Jack Smith said. 

Today’s decision marks the second of two delays in the reopening process; MCPS initially planned to begin the transition to in-person learning on January 12, which was soon moved to February 1 in a December 15 meeting.

The Board also announced that MCPS is further adjusting virtual learning requirements, allowing students to select up to two courses for a Pass/Fail final grade and offering additional tutoring hours, abbreviated schedules and outreach programs for struggling students. 

These changes accompany previous alterations meant to alleviate academic-related stress. In November, MCPS removed Progress Checks, reduced in-class material and implemented a 50%  rule, which provides students with half credit on all assignments they attempt, regardless of quality.

The Board is working with the Montgomery County Health Department to accelerate vaccine availability to staff members, ensuring in-person school will be safer, Smith said. 

“Currently, we have 281 employees since March who have tested positive for COVID-19, and 43 employees are currently quarantined,” said Chief of Engagement, Innovation and Operations Derek Turner.

The phase-in order, or the sequence in which grades will return to school buildings, remains unchanged. Students in special education and Career and Technology Education programs will be the first to return to classes. If coronavirus cases remain below 5% of the Montgomery County population, students who opted for in-person learning will then be allowed to reenter the building.

“I would choose the health of our community before going to school,” sophomore Sonya Rashkovan said. “I believe we shouldn’t go back to school until all teachers are vaccinated.”

Next month, Smith and the board members will closely monitor local vaccination procedures and statistics as they continue receiving advice from the Centers for Disease Control and various Montgomery County health officials. Although Maryland aims to get students and staff vaccinated — and in classrooms — as soon as possible, some stakeholders may not receive doses until 2022. As a result, MCPS will continue to enforce social distancing and other safety protocols in buildings until the COVID vaccine is more widely available, Smith said.

“I feel like MCPS continuously pushing back the reopening date is just a reflection of how our state is doing,” junior Yuxi Apel said. “It would be nice to get back to our new normal as soon as possible.”