MCPS fall reopening plans includes in-person and remote instruction

MCPS recommending mix of in-person, remote learning, according to draft plan

District expects to make ‘tweaks” before sharing with community on Saturday

| Published:

MCPS staff members demonstrate what an elementary classroom might look like with social distancing measures in place during a tour on Thursday of College Gardens Elementary School.

File photo

Four months after Montgomery County’s 166,000 public school students transitioned to online learning due to the spread of COVID-19, a preliminary plan for fall classes indicates that full-time, in-person classes will likely not resume in August.

In a draft plan for the fall semester released in an email to teachers union members on Friday, MCPS recommends that students receive a mix of in-person and remote instruction when classes resume in August, with students in school facilities two days per week.

MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said Friday that the plan sent to the union’s roughly 14,000 members is not the final version that will be released to community members on Saturday, and that there have been “a number of tweaks and changes.” She did not elaborate.

According to the draft that the union shared, not all students will return to buildings at once, with some groups not expected to be at their desks until Thanksgiving.

The plan shows students would attend classes on a rotating schedule, broken into groups based on grade level and last name. The first group will attend full-day, in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the second would attend on Thursdays and Fridays.

On Wednesdays, all students will learn from home while school buildings undergo deep cleaning, the plan says.

The implementation will occur gradually, over time, with pre-kindergarten, sixth-grade and ninth-grade students included in the first phase.

The second phases will include kindergarten through second-grade students, seventh-grade and 10th-grade students. The third phase includes third through fifth grades, eighth grade and juniors and seniors.

Each phase will last two to four weeks before transitioning to the next.

The goal, according to the 16-page plan, is to have all grades in the rotation by Thanksgiving.

Families can choose an online-only schedule for their children.

The MCPS hybrid plan mirrors that of many school districts across the country, as leaders attempt to balance the desire to bring students back to buildings while also ensuring there is enough space to remain distanced.

Under the MCPS plan, there will likely be no more than a dozen students per classroom and on each bus, cutting facility capacity by half and transportation capacity by 75%.

Even at half-capacity, some high schools could have more than 1,000 students in them.

Transportation will be prioritized to elementary and middle school students, according to the plan.

During a tour of an elementary school on Thursday, MCPS officials said they are considering increasing the number of routes each bus takes and staggering students’ arrival times at school to avoid crowding.

When students arrive at school, there will be markings on the ground outside and inside the building, and posters and decals in hallways and classrooms to remind children to remain 6 feet apart. Hand sanitizer stations will be throughout the school, and students and staff members will be asked “health screening questions” upon arrival.

Students and staff members will be required to wear face coverings, which will be provided by the school district if families cannot provide their own. Students will not be allowed to share school supplies and they will be responsible for bringing their school-issued Chromebooks to and from school.

Every student will be encouraged to bring their own meals from home, if possible, and lunches will be eaten in classrooms. There will be a “do not share food policy” in place.

In classrooms, which will operate at about half-capacity (usually about 12 students per class), desks will be spaced 6 feet apart, often with taped boxes around them as visual reminders of distancing requirements.

In a kindergarten classroom shown during Thursday’s media tour, 6-foot-long desks were marked with an “X” on either end where students could sit.

In sample school day schedules included in the draft fall plan, elementary students switch subjects about every 60 to 90 minutes, with a recess rotation for groups of up to 15 children.

In the middle school sample schedule, students would attend four 85-minute classes each day they are in the school building, operating like a traditional block schedule. On the first of the two days they are in the building, students would attend their first four periods. Then, they’d attend their last four periods the second day.

High school students would have a similar schedule, according to the plan.

Among the questions unanswered in the document detailing the MCPS fall plan include child care concerns, before- and after-school programs, teacher schedules, building cleaning procedures, athletics and extracurriculars, and what might trigger a full shut-down of school buildings.

A survey to solicit feedback about the plan from community members will be available from July 27 to Aug. 7, and the school district’s plan will be finalized in early August.

The school board will review the draft plan during its meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

In a message to members on Friday morning, Montgomery County Education Association President Chris Lloyd wrote that union leadership reviewed the MCPS plan and “has many questions about implementation,” but he did not elaborate.

He wrote that the union and MCPS are conducting impact bargaining about “working conditions for the upcoming school year.”

“There are significant instructional needs for students, many of whom have special needs, and others who have been traumatized by the events this spring,” Lloyd wrote. “Staff have many needs based upon a variety of personal and professional circumstances, which must be addressed in order for any plan to succeed. After all, it is us who will implement anything on paper to make it real.”

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

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