2021 | Opinion

Opinion: MCPS’ four-day instructional weeks are giving us Wednesday Anxiety

District needs to come clean on its misguided approach

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It’s just another Wacky Wednesday.

As our family goes to sleep on Tuesday nights, my husband and I become anxious about how our three kids will fill out their time on Wednesdays during this 2020-2021 academic year at Montgomery County Public Schools.

We run through the answers to this weekly Groundhog Day question. Will my boys, ages 10 and 12, be on the floor wrestling or throwing balls inside the house by 11 a.m.? Or, will they be in front of the TV playing Xbox or their eyes glued to a YouTube video?

If we are lucky, and the weather is nice, my kids will at least be outside, playing with other MCPS students left to their own devices.

The rest of the world hasn’t switched to a four-day work week to accommodate MCPS, which has no real school on Wednesdays. Most of us are expected to work five days a week, and often more.

At the same time, MCPS kids are either off on a typical Wednesday or have minimal lessons. Elementary kids have 1.5 hours of virtual-only school — which begins at 9 a.m. and is over, including several breaks, by 10:30 a.m. Middle and high school kids have no instruction.

Despite MCPS framing Wednesdays as virtual check-in days, when kids and teachers can get extra help or catch up on work, this is not your typical Wednesday.

Neither our kids nor most of their MCPS friends spend much, if any, time doing school work on Wednesdays. Why, you may ask? The answer given is that they do their homework during their actual class the other days, which is often encouraged. Moreover, many kids either do not want to connect voluntarily or find it hard to connect with their teachers remotely.

Also, problems often exist with kids gaining access to more than a few minutes of office-hour times.

Hence, on Wednesdays, many parents have hired private tutors, formed private pods or enrolled in after care or day cares (many of which are on MCPS property). Or they signed up their kids for non-MCPS fee-based programs such as Kumon or Russian School of Math, or private sports, theater, language, or arts programs.

However, not every family can afford or chooses to afford these non-MCPS fee-based programs. Therefore, many MCPS kids spend a typical Wednesday off from MCPS academic learning. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, including private schools, continues to have a five-day work week, as we did pre-pandemic.

I grew up in a family of educators. Both of my parents and my in-laws spent many weekends and nights grading papers, holding student conferences, or maintaining office hours and check-ins outside classroom hours.

So, why has MCPS eliminated Wednesdays for work? Didn’t teachers and other staffers, prior to the pandemic, get these tasks done during all other academic school years — before or after school, during recess, or on other professional days when kids are off from classes? (Teacher days have continued this year at MCPS.)

MCPS also has designated Wednesdays as cleaning days. Kids are not permitted on school property (despite after cares and day cares operating in MCPS buildings on Wednesdays and charging taxpayers extra for those day care services).

Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state: “The virus that causes COVID-19 can land on surfaces. … In most situations, the risk of infection from touching a surface is low. The most reliable way to prevent infection from surfaces is to regularly wash hands or use hand sanitizer.”

The guidelines also state that “cleaning once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove virus that may be on surfaces and help maintain a healthy facility.” In addition, scientific and news articles report on the lack of evidence of COVID-19 transmission on surfaces.

Why can’t MCPS clean at night or early in the morning? Weekends? Or even when kids are in school, since fewer kids are in the buildings?

Most office buildings and public spaces are cleaned after hours. The same for malls, gyms, bars, and restaurants. Private schools and day cares are not closed one weekday a week to clean.

MCPS should return to a five-day full-day schedule both for virtual and in-person students.

Revised CDC guidelines state that 3 feet of separation is acceptable in schools. Schools can revise “physical distancing recommendations to reflect at least 3 feet between students in classrooms.”

MCPS has not revised its standards to reflect the 3 feet of separation. It has essentially ignored the research of esteemed universities, along with a report in which the American Academy of Pediatrics urged a return to school.

No one holds MCPS accountable. MCPS is in no hurry and maintains no sense of urgency.

Kids are suffering. Many teachers who wanted to get vaccinated have gotten their shots. All other jobs that need to be in person have not only returned in person, but have worked during most of the pandemic in person full time and overtime — dentists, orthodontists, grocery/retail, bars/restaurants, health care, and so many others.

Finally, parents have the choice to remain virtual. However, why can’t the families who pay their property taxes, which are public funds, who wish to return to MCPS five days a week, full days, have that choice?

Julie Tenney-Hollander is a mother of three kids — two in fifth grade, one in sixth grade — and lives in Bethesda.

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