2021 | Schools

MCPS to keep indoor mask requirements in fall; most other restrictions will be lifted

District planning for more normal 2021-22 school year

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The Montgomery County Board of Education meets on Thursday in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Schools will look much more similar to pre-coronavirus times when Montgomery County Public Schools students return full-time for the start of the next academic year.

Aside from continuing to mandate face coverings indoors, MCPS plans to ease most of the restrictions in place this year, including class size limits and cleaning schedules.

After a yearlong closure in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools reopened this spring with many restrictions in place. Among them: weekly schedules of in-person classes, distancing requirements, one-way hallways to prevent gathering, closed-campus lunches for high school students.

Those requirements have remained through the end of the school year, but most will end by the time students return for the next year.

During a presentation to the school board on Thursday afternoon, MCPS leaders said normal class sizes will resume, as will normal daily bell schedules, the number and length of class periods, open lunch periods at the secondary level, two-way traffic in hallways, bus capacity and allowing students to share materials with each other. .

Routine cleaning of materials after each use will end, according to the presentation.

Face coverings will still be required indoors for both students and staff members, in alignment with state requirements. Masks are encouraged outdoors, but not required.

“Currently, the guidance from the state and county is that, in school buildings, masks are required, and we’ve heard from some that no children should be required to wear masks,” school board member Pat O’Neill said. “But we are also obligated to follow whatever the state and county health orders are.”

Board member Lynne Harris said guidance for the fall is built “on the information that we have now, but that may change as we move forward and continue to stay very, very current.”

MCPS is offering a virtual academy option for students who want to remain in a fully virtual model through the 2021-22 academic year.

The virtual academy will be a full-time, all-virtual school for students with health or personal concerns from the pandemic, or for students who have done better at home over the past 1.5 years.

Students who apply and are accepted into the program will remain enrolled as students at their “home schools,” but will take all of their classes online. Students can participate in in-person sports and extracurricular activities, and receive meals, at their home schools.

As of Thursday, about 500 students had applied for the program. More information about the applicants was not available on Thursday. Registration is open through July 2.

The MCPS virtual academy has not yet received approval from the state Department of Education, according to Kara Trenkamp, director of the MCPS Department of Technology Integration and Support.

The district expects to submit its application within the next two weeks, she said, and a decision from the state is expected within about a week after that.

Because the academy is structured and designated as a program, rather than a separate, new school, the review process is quicker, Trenkamp said.

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