Students to get laptops to use if schools remain closed

Students to get laptops to use if schools remain closed

District will prioritize students without devices at home

| Published:
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The school board meets in February in Rockville.

File photo

Montgomery County Public Schools plans to distribute laptops and internet hotspots to “students in need” if school closures extend beyond two weeks.

During a telephone conference call with the school board on Monday afternoon, Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the school district will prioritize providing Chromebooks and “WiFi devices” to students who do not already have the devices at home.

The technology would allow students to access MCPS’ education materials if schools remain closed more than two weeks — which local officials say is becoming increasingly likely as the coronavirus disease spreads.

On March 12, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon ordered that all public schools in Maryland close for two weeks from March 16 to 27. Salmon and other state and county officials have suggested that the closures will extend longer.

In Washington, D.C., schools are closed until the end of April. On Monday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that public schools in the state will remain closed the rest of the academic year.

While no such announcements have been made in Maryland, “it is becoming more apparent to us” that students won’t return to classes at the end of March, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith wrote in a community message on Sunday. In the message, he wrote that remote teaching will begin March 30 if schools don’t reopen.

During Monday’s meeting, Smith said developing an extended remote teaching plan is like “running very fast in the dark.”

“We just have a lot of things we don’t know and can’t know right now,” Smith said.

School district officials didn’t give many details about the teaching plan, but McKnight said it will incorporate learning opportunities, assessing students’ progress, professional development for staff members and units to promote student and staff members’ well-being.

McKnight said more information will be released later this week.

The school district is working with employee unions to determine how it will modify its academic calendar to make up the days that schools are closed.

“We will be prepared for whatever information comes out with what we have agreed on with our association partners,” McKnight said.

School board members commended MCPS employees for their work since schools closed, citing “uncharted territory” for the school district and frequent communication with community members.

School board member Pat O’Neill compared the pandemic to a “blizzard without snow.”

“One difference is, unlike with real snow, you know that eventually the snow plows will get to you … and when they’re coming,” O’Neill said. “We don’t know when we’ll get plowed out and when we’ll get to go back to normal.”

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

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