2022 | Opinion

Opinion: MCPS leadership gets it right by focusing on keeping schools open

Mental health, learning suffered greatly under virtual schooling

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We must keep our schools safe and open.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in our area has dramatically increased, so has the pressure to return to virtual learning.

That pressure comes from the political realm, like the virtual town hall meeting that county executive candidate Tom Hucker organized and from the county executive, Marc Elrich. It also comes from the teachers union vote of no confidence, criticism by the school administrators union, and some students demanding virtual schooling.

Now is not the time for a walkout. It’s time for a stay-in.

I am a teacher at Montgomery Blair High School, the parent of two MCPS students, a Montgomery County Education Association member and, most recently, one of many who came down with a case of COVID-19.

I concede that MCPS leadership has made many mistakes during this pandemic, but I support Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight’s efforts to keep our schools open.

Many of our students were traumatized by the 12 months of virtual learning we forced upon them at the beginning of this pandemic. They found themselves alone at home attempting to connect with their peers and learning confined to a Zoom box.

As a teacher, I was made aware of more serious mental health crises that resulted in hospitalization at one time than at any other moment in my 19-year career in MCPS.

Public health statistics tell us that while alcohol use decreased, most likely due to the lack of socialization, prescription drug misuse and nicotine use increased, as did death by overdoseCrime has surged.

And the learning loss and reduced mental focus that resulted was real and inequitable.

We must take the public health threat presented by the omicron variant seriously. MCPS, under the leadership of McKnight, largely has.

Our students, by and large, are role models when it comes to mask-wearing in comparison to the general population. Our buildings have invested millions of dollars in improved ventilation and air filtration.

MCPS has created a virtual school for those uncomfortable being at school in person. Most recently, when asked to provide KN95 masks and take-home antigen tests, the school system delivered.

Should we have a vaccine mandate for all students and staff in MCPS? Yes.

Is our school board sufficiently honed on the fundamental mechanics of keeping our schools open, like ensuring there are enough substitutes, bus drivers and, increasingly, full-time classroom teachers? No.

But should we entertain the idea of returning all students or even some specific schools to virtual learning? Absolutely not.  

As educators, we must model resilience by keeping our schools open, especially as the omicron variant begins to wane.

There need to be exceptions. MCPS staff members and students with heightened legitimate concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on their health or the health of their immediate family should be taken into consideration and perhaps virtual options made available.

But for the majority of students who want life to continue in person, it must.  

Psychology tells us that we best deal with trauma by relying on support from our social networks.  To deny students those social networks amounts to child abuse.

It was a mistake to close our schools entirely for a year and it would be a mistake to close them now, even for 10 days.

I was one of the 6 percent who voted against the no confidence measure put forth by MCEA because despite the many issues that MCPS must resolve, McKnight has gotten the big one right: We must keep our schools open.

Marc Grossman lives in Rockville.

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