Board of Education discusses learning updates at Community Conversation
November 5, 2020
The Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) held a Community Conversation on Virtual Learning on Monday, October 19. The event addressed questions from the community about the school year and heard parents’ suggestions for improvements. The event was conducted over Zoom and livestreamed on the MCPSTV YouTube channel.
Members of the Board began the 90-minute conversation by recapping the county’s parental outreach efforts. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has relied on a three-pronged approach, consisting of traditional parent workshops, virtual chats, and how-to technology videos, to increase parental engagement and monitor student adjustment during the beginning of the virtual school year.
The board members also clarified the difference between MyMCPSClassroom and ParentVUE/StudentVUE, the online platforms students use to monitor their assignments and grades. The confusion about the two platforms was common enough among parents to merit a distinction during the event.
Derek Turner, MCPS Chief of Engagement, Innovation and Operations, broke down the results of surveys sent to both parents and students asking them about their experiences with virtual learning.
The majority of parents who took the survey were satisfied with the educational support that their children are receiving, but 43 percent of students who responded to the survey indicated that “the current learning model is having a ‘very negative’ or ‘slightly negative effect on their social emotional well being.
“There was a lot of interest in how Wednesdays were being utilized,” Turner said. “We’re going to take that information back and we’ll hear from staff members in the coming board meetings about how we’re going to examine that time to make sure it meets the needs of our students.”
After discussing the key survey findings, the Board members took questions from the community. Parents and students were encouraged to submit questions prior to the event, but could also ask questions during the event using the YouTube chat feature. The majority of questions centered around MCPS’s in-person reopening timeline, procedures, and plans.
Many parents asked about the health metrics and data points MCPS is monitoring to determine a safe timeline to return to in-person schooling. Essie McGuire, Associate Superintendent of Operations, pointed to the number of cases in Montgomery County, the number of cases per one hundred thousand people, rates of positivity, and COVID-19 guidance released by the CDC, state officials, Maryland Department of Health, and local health officials.
County officials are also currently looking into ordering large quantities of necessary health equipment, such as various hand sanitizer stations, air filters, signs to remind students of health practices, and face masks to ensure a safe return to classrooms.
“We are ordering extensive quantities of masks [and] face coverings of a whole range of types … and looking at some of the more extensive coverings as well in terms of face shields,” McGuire said.
Prior to reopening, in addition to monitoring health metrics and ordering materials, MCPS plans to send out an online survey asking for families’ preferences for a virtual-only or a hybrid learning model.
Mr. Turner said that the County will announce plans for a future reopening “over the next couple of weeks.”
“What we don’t want to do is reopen and see the numbers tick up higher and be back in virtual learning and giving kids another disruptive experience,” Turner said. “We’re looking for opportunities to bring students back, but we have to be smart about it. We have to be safe about it.”
The board also answered questions about the ongoing boundary analysis, PTA involvement and support in virtual learning, and recordings about live classes.