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Montgomery County Public Schools will remain mask-optional when students return to classes Aug. 29, according to the district’s reopening plan released Thursday afternoon. 

The protocol adopted by the district — often criticized in recent years for implementing stricter COVID-19 guidelines than required by the state Department of Education or recommended by federal health officials — appears to largely align with recently updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which deemphasize screening testing, quarantines and masking. 

In the plan, MCPS commits to keeping school buildings open for in-person learning “unless directed to close by an authorized county or state government agency.” 

MCPS dropped its mask mandate in the spring, a decision that will continue in the fall, although wearing masks could become mandatory “in local outbreaks, high-risk situations, or, more broadly, when COVID-19 community transmission is high,” a message from the district said. 

MCPS will also discontinue its weekly COVID-19 screening testing of students who opted in, which was intended to catch asymptomatic cases of the virus. Rapid tests will still be available and used in schools if a student presents symptoms of COVID-19. 

Another major shift from previous years is the district’s approach to quarantines. In alignment with CDC guidelines, MCPS will no longer ask “close contacts” of people who tested positive to quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status. 

Most of the district’s operations will return to “pre-pandemic” procedures, according to the reopening guide. There will no longer be an emphasis on physical distancing, which caused classrooms to be reconfigured to create space between desks and the capacity of buses to be cut in half. 

MCPS cautions throughout the guide that its protocols could change if guidance from state or local health officials changes or if transmission of the virus is exceptionally high. 

The district will no longer require schools to dedicate space as “isolation rooms” for students who test positive for COVID-19 during the school day. Instead, “MCPS will ensure students who have tested positive for COVID-19 during the school day are able to mask and physically distance themselves from others while waiting for prompt pick-up,” the guide says. 

MCPS employees are still required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or be tested each week. Students are not required to be vaccinated. 

This year, schools will decide whether to operate as a “one-to-one” school, meaning that each student is given a laptop to take to and from school to supplement their coursework. Schools could instead choose to keep the laptops at school, according to the guide. 

MCPS distributed laptops to all students when the district shifted to virtual classes at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.