Montgomery County Public Schools is prepared to provide up to three weeks of “reinforcement” lessons for students if coronavirus cases force the closure of local schools.
Staff members from various MCPS offices on Wednesday provided an update on the school district’s efforts to prepare for serious impacts of coronavirus disease during a two-hour meeting of the Board of Education’s Communication and Stakeholder Engagement Committee.
Among them is a “short-term” plan to provide learning materials for students if schools closed for up to three weeks. The materials would not include any new lessons, but would aim to “extend prior learning” already taught in the classroom, according to Siobhan Alexander, director of the MCPS Elementary Integrated Curriculum Team.
Ideally, the reinforcement activities would only be used for about a week before the school district transitioned to a “long-term” education plan, MCPS Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro said. The long-term plan is still being developed, she said.
“We needed to buy ourselves time for the immediate, then continue to prepare for what teaching might look like if we have to be out of school longer,” Navarro said. “… For the short-term, having these districtwide learning extension plans available does allow for students to be home with lessons aligned to our curriculum and … materials they can do as enhancements of their current learning.”
All materials would be available online and in paper copy for families who don’t have access to the internet at home.
MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said the materials will not be released prior to schools being closed.
School district officials emphasized on Wednesday that MCPS does not make the determination to close schools.
The Department of Health and Human Services has authority to close schools during a public health emergency. Whether one school or the whole district is closed would be determined based on the facts of a particular case, MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said.
“It will depend on the conditions, but one thing we know is we are deeply interconnected in our schools,” Turner said. “For example, you might have a child in elementary school where someone becomes infected, that child has a sibling in middle school and it’s a kid that rides a bus to a magnet program in a different cluster. There’s a greater risk as we think about if somehow things spread.”
In a message to the community and staff members after the meeting, MCPS announced out-of-state travel for athletic events and field trips will be canceled beginning Monday. All scheduled in-state trips and contests will continue as scheduled, and the guidance will be updated no later than the week of April 20, the message says.
Some additional questions and answers about the MCPS plan:
What if schools are closed for more than three weeks? The school district’s long-term plan in the event of lengthy school closures is still being developed, staff members said on Wednesday.
However, they said they are aware that instruction would need to be tailored to different audiences — for example, an elementary school student might not be able to use the internet for classes as easily as a high school student.
MCPS is also exploring having lessons broadcast on its television channel and on YouTube.
Is additional cleaning being done in schools? MCPS has worked to ensure that all schools have a fully staffed building services team, according to Doug Hollis, executive director under the MCPS chief operating officer.
Each school has reviewed its regular cleaning plan and has been asked to alert MCPS to any materials it might need.
Custodians in each school facility have increased their cleaning of “high-touch surfaces,” like door handles and railings. Many carry around a spray bottle with cleaning material and a rag and wipe down the surfaces as they walk through buildings, Hollis said.
MCPS has not had any trouble purchasing or receiving cleaning materials, hand sanitizers or soaps, Hollis said.
Will meals be provided to students if schools are closed? MCPS is exploring ways to provide meals to students in ways that “don’t promote congregating,” Hollis said, including “grab and go” stations throughout the county or using school buses to deliver food to neighborhoods.
The school district is having conversations with local public safety officials to determine how best to provide meals without promoting the spread of the disease.
Asked if food would be provided only to students, Hollis said: “No one would be turned away.”
Why aren’t schools being closed before the coronavirus disease spreads? MCPS staff members repeatedly emphasized they do not make the determination about if and when schools would be closed due to concerns about the coronavirus, but cautioned that doing so would have a widespread impact on the community.
Turner, the school district spokesman, said school closures would force many parents to miss work to care for their children. That could lead to shortages at local businesses, hospitals and public transportation stations, he said.
“While we don’t make the final decisions about closures, it’s something really important for us to look at … in terms of the unintended consequences,” Turner said.
MCPS Chief Safety Officer Ed Clarke said the school district is deeply involved in county conversations about its response to the coronavirus disease. Each day, county leaders have “confidential, high-level calls to make sure everyone is in sync and sharing critical information.”
“We’re taking the lead from [Montgomery County Chief Health Officer Travis Gayles] but it’s not as if they’re dictating,” Clarke said. “We’re sharing ideas and strategies as we evolve.”
Will staff members continue to get paid if they are diagnosed with the coronavirus disease and have to miss work, or if schools close? Staff members directed by health officials to stay home due to a coronavirus diagnosis or concerns about exposure due to age or underlying health conditions will not have to use leave or lose pay, according to Krishna Tallur, director of the MCPS Department of Employee and Retiree Services.
If staff members decide, however, to not report to work due to personal concerns, they must use their personal leave to do so, said Sherwin Collette, associate superintendent in the MCPS Office of Employee Engagement and Labor Relations.
If schools were to be closed, staff members would continue to receive pay, including hourly employees. Hourly employees would be paid for their “routinely scheduled work,” Collette said.
What advice is being given to keep children healthy? MCPS is distributing posters with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to all schools, and is including health tips in emails to community members.
Tips include frequent hand washing, avoiding people who are sick and staying home if you become sick.
Anyone with health-specific questions should contact the county’s Department of Health and Human Services or their doctor, MCPS staff members said.
General school concerns should be directed to the Ask MCPS phone line at 240-740-3000.
Students who are kept home from school for health reasons or “out of an abundance of caution” will be excused, according to MCPS.
Is there any change to MCPS’ spring break? Spring break is scheduled for April 6 to 13, and there are no plans to change or extend the break, Wednesday’s MCPS message said.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com