While Montgomery County Public Schools continues its gradual return to schools after a year of virtual classes, Superintendent Jack Smith said he expects a “much more typical school year” in the fall.
During a school board meeting on Thursday, Smith said the combination of improving COVID-19 metrics and more people being vaccinated are promising signs that MCPS could return to a full, five-day, in-person schedule for the 2021-22 academic year.
The caveat, Smith said, is conflicting guidance about how much distance students and staff members should keep during classes. State guidance says there should be 6 feet of distance, while some federal guidance suggests 3 feet is adequate, Smith said.
“I am confident we can have schools much, much more like they have been in the past … if we can get the physical distancing issue clarified,” Smith said, adding that face coverings might still be required, as well as more frequent cleaning of equipment and facilities.
The calendar for the next school year has not been finalized. The school board is considering two options: One beginning on Aug. 30 and the other beginning on Sept. 8. The calendar is expected to be finalized during a meeting on March 23.
School board member Pat O’Neill urged community members to continue wearing face coverings, getting vaccinated and distancing.
“The work people do now … sets the stage for a successful reopening in the fall,” she said.
Still, the district is “exploring the concept of a virtual academy” to continue for students who do not want to return to schools.
Most students have struggled more in virtual classes, Smith said, but some have fared better and are happier. Others might have prolonged health or family situations related to COVID-19 making it less possible to return to schools.
Even if only 5% of students want to continue with virtual classes in the fall, that’s equal to more than 8,000 students, Smith noted.
No more information about the virtual option was shared on Thursday.
About 60% of MCPS students (nearly 100,000) chose to remain fully virtual through the current school year.
On Monday, MCPS will bring its second phase of students back into schools, more than a year after they were last in buildings on March 13, 2020.
About 19,000 kindergarten through third graders, career and technical education and special education students are expected to return Monday. They join the approximately 730 students who returned on March 1.
The rest of the district’s students who plan to return to schools are expected to be phased back in by late April.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com