Board of Education delays in-person instruction to March 15
January 14, 2021
The Board of Education (BOE) voted to delay the date of phased-in return from Feb. 1 to March. 15 at its meeting on Tuesday, after reviewing COVID-19 health metrics. Previously, the board had made revisions to school reopening and health metrics on Dec. 15, scheduling phased-in return to begin on Feb. 1 instead of Jan. 12.
The board’s revised health metric thresholds for a safe return is twofold; when the new case rate is below 15 cases per 100,000, and when the test positivity rate is below 5 percent. “Our current case rate per 100,000 is 44, and our test positivity rate is 7.5 percent. Both of those are significantly above the thresholds that the board set in December,” MCPS Chief of Engagement, Innovation and Operations Derek Turner said during the livestreamed meeting. “Currently, we have 281 employees since March who have tested positive for COVID-19 and 43 employees are currently quarantined.”
In the community update sent out to families, the board wrote that “the safety of students and staff has, and will continue to, guide our return to in-person learning. The current numbers simply do not support a return at this time.” Many have expressed their frustration and disappointment to the reopening dates repeatedly getting pushed back.
“It is almost the one year anniversary of a two week quarantine,” freshman Zachary Zhao said. “Forcing children to stay at home and learn is disruptive; we have already seen students perform worse because of this virtual environment. There are certainly ways to reopen early and safely with masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing.”
However, others appreciate the delay in phased-in learning. “I agree with their decision, since there are lives at stake here. To be honest, I thought their previous decisions to come back in January and then February weren’t the safest to begin with,” sophomore Claire Chen said. “It would be sad to go back and have cases rise again.”
“Nothing has changed since we left school; things have only gotten worse. Unless we start seeing COVID cases go down and there’s a more accessible vaccine, I will be enjoying school in PJ’s at home,” senior Abby Adigun said.
However, vaccines are now beginning to be distributed. School employees have been placed in Phase 1B for vaccinations that will start near the end of January. Metrics may be revised for a specific school if the mass majority of their staff are vaccinated.
In the comment section of a Bethesda Magazine article, controversy broke out as some argue that the board has no intention of opening school buildings this year and are giving people false hope. Board member Pat O’Neill has denied claims that the teachers union is forcing the board to delay reopening.
The Board will meet again on Feb. 23 to determine if metrics can be met by March 15 for a safe return to in-person learning. “We will continue to work on this year’s calendar and simultaneously next year’s calendar,” Superintendent Jack Smith said. Further updates and information will be shared with the community over the next couple of weeks.