MCPS Scales Back Foreign Exchange Student Restrictions

MCPS Scales Back Foreign Exchange Student Restrictions

Fewer schools will be closed to placements, countywide cap of 50 students put in place

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Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School is one of three schools that will not accept any foreign exchange students next school year.

File photo

Amid backlash about a plan to bar foreign exchange students from most county high schools, the Montgomery school system is scaling back its restrictions and re-examining policies.

Earlier this month, the school system told three organizations it partners with to host exchange students that 18 of its 26 high schools would not be open to placements due to crowded buildings.

On Thursday, a school system spokeswoman said school leaders had received significant feedback from community members and exchange program representatives denouncing the plan and has opted to only restrict exchange students from a handful of schools that are severely crowded and cap the number of exchange students accepted countywide at 50. No school will be allowed to have more than five exchange students for the 2019-2020 school year.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Winston Churchill and Walt Whitman high schools will not accept any foreign exchange students, while Walter Johnson will be limited to two exchange students.

In her initial letter to the exchange programs, Montgomery school system Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro said “MCPS values its relationship with exchange student organizations and recognizes the importance of this program,” but “our desire to encourage exchange student enrollment does not mitigate our responsibility to our schools in maintaining ideal total enrollment numbers.” All but eight of the county’s 26 high schools were initially proposed to be closed to exchange students.

Host families were told they could choose to send students to different schools that had space but “must provide a letter accepting responsibility for providing transportation for the student.”

Families argued with the sweeping closures, exchange students living with families in areas like Takoma Park would have to travel several hours each day to the closest open school.

Gboyinde Onijala, the school system spokeswoman, said school officials will review and possibly update the policy.

“Moving forward, for the [2020-21] school year and beyond, the plan is to review the exchange student enrollment guidelines and regulation, seek feedback from representatives, and then make any necessary updates to the guidelines and regulation,” Onijala said in a statement.

Ninety-six of the county’s 206 schools are over capacity, according to school system data, and 87 have at least one temporary, or portable, classroom.

Drew Powell, president of the Rockville Sister City Corp., which sometimes helps place exchange students, said the county’s school crowding issues are a call to action for state lawmakers to bolster capital funding.

“I believe the exchange student programs are essential for a place like Montgomery County, who prides itself on being an international county and having the level of diversity we have,” Powell said. “To deter that for any reason is yet another unforeseen consequence of poor planning and we all need to do a better job … throughout the state, quite frankly, to address the needs of school infrastructure.”

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

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