The Tide’s View: MCPS needs to make a decision and stick with it


Screenshot of The RM Tide's COVID Dashboard

RM and many other schools in the district have seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, MCPS split on returning to virtual or staying in-person

The Tide Editorial Board

This past month, COVID-19 has caused a panic similar to that at the height of the pandemic. New variants such as Omicron and Delta have spread throughout several Montgomery County schools and other counties in Maryland. Due to the sudden spike in students and staff cases, many turned to the county for guidance, students included. However, the county’s inconsistent policies and lacking data have brought about more confusion than reassurance for many.

MCPS’s initial guidelines for identifying outbreaks in schools was to conduct an evaluation of whether a school would transition to virtual learning if it crossed a 5% threshold. However, after more than 50% of MCPS schools hit the red zone mere days after this statement was released, MCPS claimed in a community message that the state of Maryland stated thresholds of that nature were not permitted to be used for school-related evaluations. “Part of me just wants MCPS to pick a plan and stick to it,” said Social Studies teacher Ms. Andrea Lyons. 

This news came as a shock to many and revealed a lack of communication between MCPS and parents as the Board of Education keeps changing its plans. “The fact that they…backtracked, created a lot of confusion for parents and teachers,” Ms. Lyons said. MCPS is going back on a plan that may be the best option: switching to online for two weeks. Not only would this reduce cases when returning, it would also allow quarantined students, who must miss 10 days of school, to catch up. Students are not the only ones affected by the surge in cases either, the already pressing bus and staffing shortages have been exacerbated by the sudden increase. 

Nearly 100 bus routes were not in service, leaving hundreds of students to scramble for a ride to school. Ms. Lyons has a unique view as a teacher, and a parent in MCPS: “I’ve heard other schools telling their students, ‘I’m sorry, you’re going to just have to walk home, there are no buses.’ I think as a parent, that is a concern. But also, as a teacher…do we have enough staff in the building to run the school safely?” 

MCPS addressed this by asking students to walk or carpool, unrealistic for many, especially at the last minute. Students who do not have access to these alternate forms of transportation are forced to miss school. MCPS is also having available bus drivers to maximize the number of runs they do. Not only is this an overload of work for drivers, but many students have to wait hours after school for a bus ride home. 

Following the trend of staff shortages, there is also a significant lack of substitute teachers. To combat this, many teachers have had to sacrifice their planning periods to cover other classes. However, that still isn’t always enough. Parents, teachers, and students alike share many of the same concerns. A petition, started a week ago by student at Walt Whitman high school, Zoe Cantor, urges MCPS to provide the county with a virtual learning route and currently has nearly 19,000 signatures and counting.  

At RM, one solution is to gather all students without substitutes in the auditorium to be under the supervision of an administrator. Some teachers who are out long-term have had to resort to zoom, having students join their meetings from school. All of these attempts to fill the substitute void are not effective in keeping students on task, completing assignments, and not falling behind their peers. 

The staffing issues not only exemplify the calamity of COVID-19 but reiterate how the county’s poor guidance is compromising student safety and access to education. The only way to truly combat these shortages is to put a pause on in-person learning. A two-week virtual period would give sick staff a chance to recover without infecting others or affecting students’ education with their absences. 

On top of that, the students who are either quarantining or avoiding infection by staying home cannot keep up with their workload. Some teachers have set up live zoom calls for them to join during the class, but that is not an option for everyone. People argue that in-person learning is more sustainable because students naturally learn better within the classroom and can focus on their mental health. However, it is difficult to focus on learning when COVID-19 cases are on the rise, and students are constantly worrying about getting infected. 

MCPS bases their commitment to in-person learning on the improved quality of education compared to virtual learning. However, between staffing shortages, significant absences, and transportation restrictions, in-person learning has made education inaccessible and chaotic for many. The Tide collectively calls for a transition to virtual learning for two weeks, giving enough time for these problems to be addressed so that these unnecessary burdens will not be placed on students, staff and their families.