MCPS prepares for in-person instruction in January
November 11, 2020
It has been nearly eight months since the COVID-19 quarantine started, causing Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to shift to a virtual learning format. Currently, MCPS plans to begin phasing back to in-person learning for some in-school instruction in January. The school board stated that the district’s most at-risk students could begin to return on Jan. 12, as long as COVID-19 health metrics fall under acceptable safety measures.
According to a recent article published in the Bethesda Magazine, MCPS officials said that they want to “focus on students who have struggled the most with virtual instruction.” This group includes English language learners, students in special education programs, and both the youngest and oldest students in the county. Associate Superintendent James Koutsos announced that the county is currently considering many different aspects in planning for reopening, including the order of groups to be phased back, which staffing models to use, and facility upgrades that are needed to meet federal guidelines.
The article states that MCPS plans to have “small numbers of students in a building,” and provide face coverings and hand sanitizer to all staff members. Extra protective gear, such as goggles, face shields, and surgical masks, will be given to staff members working with special education students who are not able to wear their own masks.
For some students, providing personal protection equipment like these makes them feel more secure going back to school. “If they made [students] go to school one or two days a week and if they required [them] to wear masks and maybe if the classes were smaller I would be comfortable attending in-person school,” sophomore Fionna Godes said.
On the contrary, many staff and students feel concerned about having to go back to face-to-face learning as they feel they are putting themselves and others around them in danger. “Not only do I worry about [myself] and my family but also my students’ families,” science teacher Allison Adams said.
One reason for this unease can be shown by the experiences of staff who have worked on-site in the past. The article mentions that since March, 79 staff members, equivalent to about 0.027% of all MCPS staff, have reported being infected with COVID-19 by coming in direct contact with school campuses. This produces worry regarding the likelihood that students and staff will contract the virus when they are back in school, even with the proper protection and equipment.
Other students have mixed feelings about returning to in-person school. “I feel like it would be fun and make it easier to meet new people but I also think it wouldn’t be the best idea right now,” freshman Michelle Yuen said.
As of right now, the future of online school may not be clear, but MCPS is still working on finding new safety precautions to take in order to safely reopen schools as soon as possible. In a letter to MCPS staff and faculty, county officials wrote, “We know that this news may cause apprehension for some people. Please know that the safety of our students and staff is the top priority for us.”