MCPS waiting on state before finalizing plan for makeup days

MCPS waiting on state before finalizing plan for makeup days

Additional guidance expected Wednesday

| Published:

Montgomery County education leaders are still working to determine how to make up days schools are closed due to the coronavirus disease.

Last week, MCPS said it would release details by Tuesday, particularly about whether spring break would be modified or canceled to offset the lost days of the two-week closure. But the information never came. The school district said it is still “working through the implications … and its impact on a number of areas,” including teaching, standardized testing and athletic and art events.

The school district is also waiting for more information from state officials.

“We’re hoping to get greater clarity [Wednesday] and are planning for a districtwide message as soon as we have that additional info,” MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said Tuesday evening. “The situation is constantly changing and we want to make sure we have the most accurate and up-to-date information to provide to our community.”

In previous press conferences, state education officials said school districts should alter spring break to make up the days.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said the school district needed time to determine if that was the best option.

State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon told reporters on Tuesday morning she has a conference call with superintendents “every other day” and hopes determinations about whether schools will be closed past March 27 will be made in the next week.

Salmon said she received long-term teaching plans from each Maryland school district on Monday and will review them to “make sure they’re equitable across the state.”

Onijala said more information about the MCPS plan would be available in the coming weeks and it varies depending on how long schools are closed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued new guidance that suggests schools should be closed longer than Maryland schools have planned.

The guidance says in jurisdictions with “substantial community spread” or a “larger community mitigation strategy,” schools should be closed for four to eight weeks “or more.” As of Wednesday morning, Maryland had 85 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease, up from 57 on Tuesday. Thirty-one of the cases are in Montgomery County.

Gov. Larry Hogan has said most of the new cases are spread from person-to-person and not tied to international travel.

Now considered a “short-term” schools closure by the CDC, there is a list of benefits: giving time for health professionals to further assess and understand the disease, providing protection for older staff and students with underlying health conditions and children experiencing minimal social isolation from their peers.

At four weeks and beyond, the list of downfalls grows. There is an increased risk of infection for older adults (40% of grandparents provide child care for their grandchildren and school closures will increase the percentage). The health care workforce is decreased because those staff members have to stay home with their children. There is a growing number of negative economic impacts, and a “significant impact on academic outcomes” can occur.

Two months or more of closures could force schools to add an extra semester or year before students can graduate or move up a grade, the CDC says.

On Tuesday, the CDC canceled a scheduled online briefing with superintendents in which the federal department was expected to give schools guidance about closures. Instead, the CDC called on the White House to clarify its guidance for the maximum number of people who should congregate in one spot.

The CDC on Sunday recommended no more than 50 people gather, and on Monday, the White House said there shouldn’t be more than 10 people in one place.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday ordered that all public schools be closed for the rest of the academic year. School leaders said teaching will continue remotely, but a clear plan was not immediately available, according to local media.

In Montgomery County, thousands of students don’t have access to the internet at home, making virtual learning challenging, if not impossible.

In previous meetings, MCPS staff members said they were working to develop a plan both for online learning and ways to provide hard copies of materials.

They previously discussed the possibility of broadcasting lessons on the school district’s YouTube and TV channels.

For now, students have been assigned materials to reinforce lessons they learned before classes dismissed on Friday. The activities won’t be graded.

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

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