Staffing shortages that plagued Montgomery County classrooms since buildings reopened to students in the fall have seeped into the summer, forcing students in a special education program to shift to a virtual format.

About 175 students enrolled in Montgomery County Public Schools’ Extended School Year Program were notified this week that their program would not be held in-person.

The Extended School Year Program is “an individualized extension of specific services beyond the regular school year that is designed to meet the specific goals included in a student’s individualized education plan,” according to the MCPS website. Students in special education programs were among the most negatively affected by school closures, according to MCPS data shared throughout the fall and spring.

Three people affected shared a message with Bethesda Beat that they received from the district explaining the change. In it, MCPS officials wrote that “due to the significant teacher shortage, (MCPS) has been unable to hire special education teachers to serve” the students, despite offering “incentive pay” to recruit teachers.

The letter said MCPS will instead provide the summer services virtually and pay “a person that you identify” $19 per hour for four hours each day to assist the student with their work.

Affected families were asked to identify the person by Tuesday, July 5.

MCPS spokesman Chris Cram confirmed in an email to Bethesda Beat on Thursday that about 175 students were affected, but did not answer additional questions as of 1 p.m., including whether any other summer programs have been impacted by staffing shortages.

About 37,400 MCPS students — or 23% of total enrollment — were registered for summer courses as of Wednesday, according to district data.

Since school buildings reopened full-time in the fall, MCPS has struggled with what county leaders have at times called a “critical” staffing shortage. Problems came to a head in January, following winter break, when COVID-19 cases surged and hundreds of new cases were reported in the school district each day.

As of mid-June, MCPS had nearly 600 unfilled positions across the district, many of which were teachers.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com