2021 | Schools

MCPS commits to in-person classes unless state orders buildings to close

Fall guide details plans for preventing COVID-19 spread, quarantining, grading

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MCPS on Friday released its fall reopening guide, which included information about COVID-19 prevention measures, quarantine procedures and grading expectations.

via MCPS

Montgomery County Public Schools will have in-person classes in the fall and won’t revert back to virtual lessons unless the state orders that school buildings be closed, according to documents the district released on Friday.

As MCPS prepares for the first day of the 2021-22 school year on Aug. 30, the district released it “fall reopening guide” with information about how it aims to prevent the spread of COVID-19, its quarantine procedures and its approach to academic recovery following more than a year of classes upended by the pandemic.

Also see: MCPS will require employees to get COVID-19 vaccine or be tested weekly

In the plan, MCPS commits to maintaining full-time, in-person classes unless state leaders order otherwise due to “health conditions in the county or state.”

Through the winter and spring, Gov. Larry Hogan pushed for school districts across the state to return to in-person classes, and often chided districts like MCPS for reopening slowly.

If capacity in school buildings is limited, MCPS is “developing a plan for hybrid instruction where students would receive in-person instruction on some days and virtual instruction on other days,” the guide says.

The guide doesn’t detail specifically what will happen if a student or group of students must quarantine as a result of someone testing positive for COVID-19. That will vary “depending on the circumstances and will be communicated directly with families when the need arises,” the document says.

Schools will open operating at full capacity, but all students, employees and visitors will be required to wear face coverings in buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

All MCPS employees will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or be tested weekly.

There will be in-school COVID-19 pool testing for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The group was chosen because children younger than 12 are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Specifics about the pool testing were not detailed in the guide, but MCPS conducted similar testing in the spring.

The testing requires students in a classroom to swab their own noses, and each sample is put into one test tube. In the spring, if the tube showed a positive result, each student was retested individually, and decisions about quarantines were made.

Each building will have an “isolation room” for students who develop COVID-19 symptoms while at school. The nurse or other health staff will determine “appropriate next steps,” which could include sending the student home or connecting them with a COVID-19 testing resource.

MCPS plans to continue notifying the community of positive cases and will post the messages on its website. Parents “must notify school leadership if their child is exposed to COVID-19 or receives a positive test result,” the guide says.

Other highlights in the fall reopening guide:

• MCPS “encourages” and will provide guidance to schools about using outdoor spaces for “unmasked educational, recreational and social experiences.”

• School buses will operate at normal capacity. Face coverings will be required. Weather permitting, windows will be open to “increase air circulation and decrease the likelihood that the virus is transmitted during transport.”

• When elementary students eat lunch in their school’s cafeteria, each class will be assigned to a designated table to limit mixing of groups. Schools “will receive support in considering ways to maximize outdoor spaces.”

• To address “gaps” in knowledge in core classes, students who “do not demonstrate proficiency with grade-level standards” will either receive tutoring before or after school, or other “interventions” during the school day.

• The school district will return to pre-pandemic grading policies, but will emphasize “putting students first and grading with grace.” Schools are directed to provide multiple opportunities for reassessment. “MCPS is mindful of the extreme challenges students faced during the pandemic and will continue to face during the recovery period,” the guide says.

• MCPS will provide a new social-emotional learning curriculum to students beginning in the fall. Called “The Leader in Me,” the curriculum “fosters a holistic approach to education,” teaches leadership and creates a “culture of student empowerment.”

• Students will keep their Chromebooks, first provided at the start of virtual classes in March 2020, for the entirety of their time as students with MCPS. The computers are expected to supplement, not replace, in-person lessons, district leaders have said. MCPS also provides mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for families who do not have internet access at home. Students will be expected to bring their computers to and from school, as needed.

• Sports and extracurricular activities will resume full, in-person operations in the fall.

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