Protesters urge Montgomery County Public Schools to reopen for in-person instruction

Protesters urge Montgomery County Public Schools to reopen for in-person instruction

Group argues that virtual lessons hurt students, families

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A small group of people gathered at Montgomery County Public Schools' Rockville headquarters on Tuesday to urge the school system to resume in-person instruction.

Photo by Dan Schere

A small group of protesters gathered in the parking lot of Montgomery County Public Schools’ headquarters in Rockville to urge the school system to reopen for in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MCPS announced in July that instruction would remain virtual through the 2020-2021 school year’s first semester, which runs through Jan. 29. Superintendent Jack Smith has said MCPS will reassess health conditions at the end of the first quarter on Nov. 9 to determine how soon in-person instruction can resume.

Fewer than 10 people had gathered by 4 p.m., with signs bearing messages that included “Open schools safely Now!” and “Equity=In-person school.”

Protester Brigitta Mullican, a former MCPS parent and former Rockville City Council candidate, said Tuesday that the damage of children not going to school in person is greater than the risk of catching the virus. She said schools could reopen safely in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“I have friends who have four kids. Imagine having four kids being on Zoom and you’re trying to work. It’s hard. I sympathize. So, I say open the schools safely. I think it can be done,” she said.

Mullican said the lack of internet access is an equity issue for some families.

Sharon Bauer, a former MCPS parent, said she has friends with children in the school system and they are “very disadvantaged” by virtual learning.

“[The parents] don’t think that the children are getting proper instruction on the virtual learning. It’s hard to get them motivated. They miss playing with their friends. And it just doesn’t seem to be working for a lot of families that I hear from,” she said.

Bauer, when asked about the possibility of spreading the virus, said a number of states in the Midwest have allowed in-person instruction.

According to a database compiled by the publication Education Week, Iowa, Texas, Florida and Arkansas had state-ordered in-person instruction available as of Tuesday. In 39 states, including Maryland, local jurisdictions are given the authority to make their own decisions about school reopenings.

Bauer said she doesn’t understand why children can’t return to school, but other public places can reopen.

“My family knows that if you can go to Walmart, and you can go to Costco, and you can go to every grocery store, and you can do it safely, then you should be able to go to school safely,” she said.

Board of Education candidate Michael Fryar was at the scene Wednesday, but said he wasn’t affiliated with the protest.

Fryar said he favors a “hybrid” approach to school reopening, in which some students would to go school on Mondays and Tuesdays, others on Thursdays and Fridays, and there would be a break on Wednesday.

“Kids should be back in school. I think it should be done in a cautious way. I think we should take care and make sure that we’re safe going back in for teachers and students,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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