UPDATED: Bethesda Montessori School plans to reopen in person in the fall
State’s child care facilities allow 15 individuals per classroom in Stage 2
This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. July 9, 2020, to include additional comments about the school’s plan to reopen.
As public schools decide what classroom instruction will look in the fall, a Bethesda private school said this week it will provide full-time, in-person classes.
On the Bethesda Montessori School website’s home page is a post urging people to apply for the school as it plans to “reopen, five days a week!”
In bright red lettering, the post says “all” will wear face shields and commingling of students will be limited.
“All will wear face shields, we will utilize separate entrances for each class and have at least twice daily temperature checks,” the post says. “We will clean materials and surfaces regularly, hand wash and sanitize throughout the day, observe social distancing, and limit co-mingling of students. WE WILL BE OPEN!”
The school made the same post Monday on its Facebook page.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, a school official said it was hard to be definite about plans for the fall. The school is still waiting for more information from state and local officials, Admissions Director Kristie Galic said.
Galic said the school is “planning for all possibilities” should officials prevent it from opening in person.
In June, the school posted on Facebook: “Enroll now! We will be open — we have a lot of extra classrooms and space here at BMS, and safety equipment has arrived.”
In May, it posted that it was “working hard to consider part day or alternating day scenarios.”
“Given the large space available to us here at BMS, we can accommodate smaller groups in additional rooms, and separate for lunch and recess,” the post said.
The Montessori school, on Clarendon Road, enrolls students from ages 3 to 6. In the 2019-2020 academic year, the school was fully enrolled, with 80 students attending the three-teacher school, according to Galic. The school leases its facility from the Bethesda Presbyterian Church.
Lindsay Cartin White, whose son George attends the Montessori school, said she is unsure about sending him back to an in-person environment in the fall.
“I’m torn,” she said. “We’re definitely doing it; he needs it. But, of course, it’s scary for the virus, but I know the school will do everything they can to keep them as safe as possible.”
Cartin White said her son had multiple Zoom classes a week after the school closed, including a lunchtime once a week and extracurricular Tae Kwon Do and music activities.
Even with these virtual programs, she said, it was still not an adequate substitute for the typical in-person education.
She said she understands that all of the safety precautions, such as the use of face shields and not allowing parents to come into the building, could be scary for young children. But she would abide by the restrictions to ensure that the physical school structure could resume.
“The school did everything they possibly could, but Zoom is not meant for kids that age,” she said. “Zoom is not meant for anybody learning. It’s just not. It’s just too hard. They need that in person, one-on-one. They need the social interaction.”
Bethesda Montessori School is one of the first in Montgomery County to declare it will have face-to-face classes when the new school year begins.
Montgomery County Public Schools leaders have said they are considering a menu of options for the 166,000 students the district serves.
Options include full-time online classes, a hybrid of in-person and remote classes and the possibility of needing to switch between the choices depending on health conditions.
Staff members have done walk throughs of elementary schools to demonstrate the impact of social distancing measures. A more detailed plan is expected to be released during a school board meeting next week.
The Maryland Department of Education in June released an updated document providing guidance to public K-12 schools about reopening plans. It calls for increased cleaning and sanitation, strict social distancing measures, good building ventilation and more spacing between students on buses if schools reopen.
The Montessori school, however, is classified as a child care facility, which has slightly different rules for reopening.
The Maryland Department of Education allowed all child care facilities to reopen on June 10, with a maximum of 15 individuals in a classroom, as part of Stage 2. The facilities must follow all health department protocols, including an increase in sanitation, teaching hygiene practices, enforcing social distancing and wearing face coverings when feasible.
The school was not part of the “Essential Personnel Child Care” program, paid for by the state, which allowed some child care providers to apply to stay open if they cared for the children of essential workers, like firefighters and medical personnel.