Results of surveys about the Montgomery County school district’s approach to fall classes show a divide between parents’ and teachers’ preferences as the COVID-19 pandemic rages across the United States.
The results, shared during a school board meeting on Tuesday, showed that 42% of parents who responded plan to have their children participate in face-to-face learning. Another 22% said they plan to have their children in virtual-only lessons and 35% were undecided.
However, only 25% of educators said they’d like to return to school buildings when the 2020-21 academic year begins.
About 22% of the 16,965 teachers who responded said they “were not yet sure about in-person work or working virtually,” while 52% said they would like to have the opportunity to work remotely.
The surveys were administered in June, before MCPS released its draft plan for the fall semester.
The plan, unveiled Saturday, has all students beginning the 2020-21 academic year entirely online, with a phased approach to bring them back to school buildings part-time by the end of November.
Because of social distancing guidelines, MCPS’ bus fleet would operate at about 25% of its capacity. Classrooms would have no more than 15 children.
About 60% of the 55,839 parents who responded to the MCPS survey said their child would need to use MCPS or public transportation to get to and from school. The MCPS draft plan says parents will have to “opt in” to use school district transportation services and space will be prioritized for elementary and middle school students.
Essie McGuire, associate superintendent of operations for MCPS, said transportation will be “one of the most challenging services to implement while maintaining the required physical distancing.”
Regardless of whether families opt to have their children learn entirely from home, MCPS Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instructional Programs Niki Hazel said, students will receive more live instruction from their teachers than what occurred in the spring.
While in schools, students will receive live, teacher-led lessons. When they are home, there will also be some live classes and pre-recorded videos to supplement lessons.
During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles gave an overview of local health conditions. He emphasized that the county has made progress in “flattening the curve,” but said more significant improvements are needed before school buildings can reopen.
Superintendent Jack Smith emphasized, as school district leaders have repeatedly done since Saturday, that the plan is not final and will be changed as needed. He said people have many questions and concerns, but the draft was “never intended to answer all of the questions.”
“There’s the issue of timing of answering all the questions,” Smith said. “If we answer too soon, we don’t have all the information, but if we answer them too late, people don’t have the information they need.”
One question answered on Tuesday was that MCPS expects to return to its traditional grading model in the fall, after using a pass/fail scale in the spring.
Smith said 320 people — parents, union leaders, teachers, administrators and others — were part of several work groups that collaborated to create the MCPS plan.
A questionnaire about the plan will be released to staff members July 18 to 26. There will be a “registration period” for families to indicate whether their children will participate in online-only instruction from July 27 to Aug. 7.
The school board will again review the plan at a meeting in early August.
While the Montgomery County school board was reviewing the MCPS plan, the Maryland State Education Association, in partnership with the Baltimore Teachers Union and Maryland Parent-Teacher Association, released a letter on the topic of reopening. The letter asked Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon to require that all schools conduct classes entirely remotely in the fall.
“We believe it is the right approach and will allow time for further evaluation of health matrices, stakeholder input, and the educational needs of students on a district-by-district basis to allow for a transition to a hybrid learning model after the year begins and possibly a mostly in-person model later in the school year if and when it is safe,” the letter said.
An alternate proposal
During the discussion about Montgomery County Public Schools’ plan for fall classes, school board member Rebecca Smondrowski pitched a new idea — focusing exclusively on in-person elementary school classes, using school buildings throughout the district.
Her idea, which other board members did not seem to support, would have had elementary school students participating in full-time in-person classes while middle and high school students learned remotely.
Classes would be streamed live, so families who did not feel comfortable sending their young children to school could participate in real time, Smondrowski said. Staff members would have been called upon to help roll out the plan, including part-time and service workers, she said.
High school libraries, cafeterias, media centers and auditoriums could be used to provide before- and after-school programs, she said.
She asked for MCPS officials to create a draft plan based on her proposal.
“I’m not trying to make things more complicated. I’m trying to think of ways to simplify and address everything,” Smondrowski said.
The idea did not get any traction, though.
Smith said it would take “hundreds and hundreds of hours” to develop the model. School board members Pat O’Neill and Brenda Wolff said they do not want MCPS staff members to divert attention from the already-formulated proposal.
“I don’t want you spending hundreds of hours on this,” O’Neill said. “I want you spending hundreds of hours perfecting what you believe is the best plan.”
Wolff added that “coming up with a whole new plan is going to be problematic because it will push back the date we can get something out to the community.”
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org