2020 | Schools

MCPS preparing for remote teaching, food distribution in case of coronavirus outbreak

Health officials say risk of contracting disease remains minimal

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Via CDC

If there’s a local outbreak of the coronavirus disease, Montgomery County Public Schools officials say they are prepared to continue teaching remotely.

In a message to community members on Wednesday afternoon — one day after the county government received a comprehensive briefing about the disease — MCPS wrote that pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students will have access to online and hard copy teaching materials if schools are closed.

Educational videos and broadcasts would be available on the school’s website and MCPS would provide instructional activities for parents to do with their children.

The message also said that if schools were closed for a long time, MCPS is prepared to “provide meals at several schools as regional meal sites.” Information on where the sites would be has not been finalized.

There had been no cases of the coronavirus disease confirmed in Maryland as of Wednesday afternoon.

Twenty-one patients in Maryland had received tests, 10 of which were negative. The results of 11 cases were pending Wednesday.

Nationally, there have been more than 80 confirmed cases and nine deaths.

County health officials on Tuesday said the majority of community members are at low risk of contracting the virus, and those who catch it are at low risk of developing serious symptoms.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s health officer and chief of the Department of Health and Human Services, said decisions about whether to close schools would be made on a case-by-case basis and “there is no set threshold at this time to when we would make that decision.”

There is no imminent plan to close schools, and MCPS custodians have “increased their focus on thoroughly disinfecting communal surfaces,” according to MCPS. Informational posters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be distributed to schools this week with information about the coronavirus, best practices to remain healthy and what to do if people believe they have the disease.

Symptoms include fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. The organization recommends traditional strategies to prevent the spread, like washing your hands, covering coughs and staying home if you’re sick.

MCPS has also developed a page on its website with information from the CDC. It will be updated routinely, according to the community message.

MCPS has closed schools due to disease outbreaks before. In 2009, Rockville High School was closed for several days when a student was discovered to have contracted a “probable” case of H1N1 — the swine flu.

In a column for Education Week that year, then-Principal Debra Munk wrote that she learned of the closure in the late evening on a Thursday. By Monday, with the prospect of the school being closed for “several weeks” appearing “quite probable,” she and several staff members developed a distance learning plan using a mix of school technology.

The school district sent an automated phone message to families explaining the new plan, which used listservs, messages, the school district website and online grading platforms.

Basically, she wrote, students were doing online classes and were able to communicate with their teachers via phone and email. Students who didn’t have access to computers at home were given paper copies of assignments.

The school reopened about a week later.

“As we learned at Rockville High School, however, closing school does not have to stop learning,” Munk wrote. “With today’s technologies, that can continue even when school doors are shut.”

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