2022 | Schools

16 MCPS schools to go virtual beginning Thursday

MCPS asks for help with contact tracing

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Sixteen Montgomery County schools will move to virtual classes for 10 days, beginning Thursday, district leaders announced Tuesday.

Specific information was not given by the school district about why each of the schools were chosen for the shift to virtual instruction. Instead, in a community message, the district reiterated the factors it considers when making decisions.

Ten of the schools are elementary schools.

The 16 schools are:
• Beall Elementary
• Briggs Chaney Middle
• Brookhaven Elementary
• Clopper Mill Elementary
• Captain James E. Daly Elementary
• Gaithersburg Elementary
• Glenallan Elementary
• Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle
• Lakelands Park Middle
• Neelsville Middle
• Paint Branch High
• RICA — John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents
• Sargent Shriver Elementary
• Twinbrook Elementary
• Watkins Mill Elementary
• Whetstone Elementary

The school buildings are expected to reopen on Jan. 31, according to the MCPS message.

The first 11 schools that moved to virtual classes earlier this month returned to buildings on Tuesday.

Those schools had been virtual after more than 5% of students and staff members tested positive in the two weeks prior. MCPS no longer uses the 5% metric as a guidepost for making closure decisions. The district ditched the metric within days of moving the 11 schools to virtual, after an additional 115 schools reached the same threshold.

During a school board meeting last week, district leaders detailed the different points they would evaluate to determine if a school building should temporarily close.

The points include:
• The number of cases of COVID-19 in the past 10 days
• The number of student absences
• The number of employee absences and how they will affect school operations
• The number of unfilled substitute requests
• The school community’s perspective on the ability to safely and effectively operate.

As central office administrators evaluate the data each day (which will all be available by 10 a.m., Chief of Districtwide Services and Supports Dana Edwards said), they flag any concerning trends over three days for school leaders, Department of Health officials and community members who are part of a review group for each school.

The group then makes a recommendation to Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight about whether to stop in-person instruction, according to the presentation.

When schools are identified for closure, the district leaves them up to two business days to prepare for the transition, during which students remain in in-person classes. It is important, MCPS leaders said, to allow families time to plan, obtain child care and other needs.

There are no specific metrics that will guide or automatically trigger the shift to virtual classes. School board members last week asked for metrics and data, and McKnight said some will be developed and presented at a later meeting.

McKnight on Tuesday made two requests of the county government to help schools deal with the current wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

First, she requested that the county — possibly through the Department of Health and Human Services — take over contact tracing efforts within schools.

“Our school administrators and our staff have been handling this responsibility throughout the year, and we’ve heard repeatedly that it’s taken away their ability to focus on instruction,” McKnight told County Council members.

McKnight also asked that the county distribute 190,000 coronavirus rapid test kits every other week. She added that it would fulfill demand for every student and staff member throughout MCPS.

MCPS staff members need to focus on other operational tasks outside of procuring tests, she said.

Staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this story.

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