2021 | Schools

20,000 more MCPS students return to classrooms on Thursday

Health official says COVID-19 data a ‘major area of concern,’ but reopening OK

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As the next group of Montgomery County Public Schools students returned to classrooms on Thursday, health officials are carefully watching COVID-19 data as a “major area of concern.”

On Thursday morning, the second-to-last group of MCPS students headed back to schools for the first time in more than a year, doubling the number of students in buildings from 20,000 to about 40,000.

Thursday’s group includes pre-kindergarten, fourth through sixth grade, high school seniors and students in career and technical education programs.

The original date for the group to return was originally scheduled for Tuesday, April 6, but it was delayed due to concerns about spring break-related travel. The extra virtual day was intended for students and staff members to obtain a COVID-19 test.

During a Montgomery County Council meeting on Tuesday, county Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said that despite some recent increases in COVID-19 cases, school reopenings are “OK,” but a “major area of concern.”

And, he added, because Montgomery County is so populous — there are more than 1 million people in the county — conditions can deteriorate quickly.

The county’s COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people increased slightly in the last week of March from 10 cases to about 12.2 cases. The rate has been slowly decreasing since, down to 10.9 cases per 100,000 people on Wednesday. At its peak in January, the case rate was 49.8.

The county’s test positivity rate was about 3.2% on Wednesday.

In late March, the school board voted to slightly speed up its return to buildings, by combining the last two groups in its reopening plan.

The final group of students will head back to classrooms on April 19, a week earlier than originally planned. That group includes seventh to 11th grade.

Under the previous plan, those students would have returned to schools on April 26.

Among the last in the region to reopen, MCPS buildings were closed for nearly a year before the first small group of students returned on March 1. The second group returned March 15, and the next phase — which includes about 20,000 more students — began Thursday.

All 208 schools in MCPS have been open since March 15.