2021 | Schools

UPDATED: State board denies MCPS request to cancel some classes before in-person return

District was lobbying for time teachers could use to prepare classrooms

This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. Jan. 26, 2021, to include a statement from MCPS.

The Maryland State Board of Education on Tuesday denied the Montgomery County school district’s request to cancel virtual classes the week before students return to classrooms in March.

In a letter to state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith asked that the board allow MCPS to waive four days from the required 180 days of instruction, March 9 to 12.

The district wanted to designate those for teachers and support staff members to prepare classrooms and school buildings for students’ return on March 15.

The time also would have allowed the staff to “practice compliance with protocols, finalize student schedules and transportation, and address the myriad of other details that will have to be finalized,” Smith wrote.

The preparations are especially important, Smith wrote, because the first students scheduled to return to buildings are generally the youngest — “some of whom have never navigated a school building before” — and students who need significant support from employees.

“The waiver of four days will allow staff to complete this important work without requiring divided attention from virtual instruction and support for students,” Smith wrote. “This waiver of four school days is critical to success for opening school buildings.”

Salmon on Tuesday told state board members that the waiver is not necessary, and that MCPS did not indicate that it planned to add days to the end of the academic year to offset the time off.

State law requires that school districts provide 180 days of instruction each academic year. MCPS’ request was to waive four of those days, according to state school board documents. The law allows the state to waive days due to “natural disaster, civil disaster, or severe weather conditions,” according to state documents.

“We have had students out for enough time and we believe other systems are able to transition their students back without actually having days off of school,” Salmon said.

Shawn Bartley, a state board member from Montgomery County, added that his wife is a teacher who is “ready to get back, and I don’t think she’d need four days.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala wrote that MCPS is “committed to ensuring our staff has adequate time” to prepare for buildings to reopen.

“We will explore alternative plans to provide this needed time in the coming weeks,” Onijala wrote.

Smith suggested in January that teachers might get the week leading up to a return to buildings to prepare their classrooms when the Montgomery County school board delayed the return from February to March.

MCPS is the state’s largest school district, with more than 160,000 students. The district has not offered in-person classes since March, when the state announced a mandatory closure of schools across the state to slow the spread of COVID-19.

About 40% of MCPS students plan to return to buildings when they reopen.

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