In January, months before the coronavirus surfaced in Maryland, Bethesda Beat predicted 2020 would be a busy year in education news. We weren’t wrong.
But it wasn’t school calendar issues or even debates about school boundaries that dominated headlines.
Stories about school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and discussions about whether to reopen buildings dominated the list of most-read education stories of the year.
On March 12, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a statewide closure of all schools as fears about the spread of the coronavirus escalated. Montgomery County Public Schools’ buildings did not reopen in 2020, leaving more than 161,000 students taking classes via laptops from home.
Some private schools have reopened their buildings to welcome students back from in-person learning, and news about reported outbreaks among staff and students were among the most read.
The election for three seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education was closely followed, as was news about summer protests calling for racial justice.
The top 20 most-read Bethesda Beat education stories this year were:
- In July, about six weeks before the 2020-21 academic year was set to begin, MCPS announced it planned to begin the school year fully virtual, but phase students back into school buildings part-time by the end of November. (That didn’t happen.)
- In April, five Montgomery County high schools were ranked in a list of the country’s 500 best, including Poolesville High, which was named the best in Maryland.
- On March 11, the day before the statewide closure of schools was announced, MCPS leaders met to develop a “short-term plan” for remote learning if the pandemic necessitated it. (It did.)
- After MCPS announced its first plan for reopening school buildings in July, the Montgomery County teachers union tore into the district, saying the plan was not well thought out and it put students and staff members in danger.
- The teachers union in June filed a class-action labor grievance against MCPS for implementing new reporting requirements during the pandemic that it said hindered their ability to provide services to students in special education programs.
- A Poolesville High School teacher was investigated in October after he allegedly shared a screen containing pornographic images during a virtual class.
- After three MCPS students died by suicide in two weeks, Montgomery County government officials in June pledged to “do a lot more” to provide mental health resources to children.
- In November, the Maryland Department of Health began publicly reporting schools that have active COVID-19 outbreaks. The data are updated weekly.
- Students across the county took to social media this summer to share stories of sexual assault and harassment, prompting a school district and police investigation. (In October, MCPS reported it had looked into more than 350 claims and was still investigating.)
- Eighteen people filed as candidates for this year’s Montgomery County Board of Education election. All three races were contested, with 13 people running for one open at-large seat. The winners were Lynne Harris for the at-large seat, Rebecca Smondrowski for District 2 and Shebra Evans for District 4.
- After eight months of all students learning from home, MCPS in November announced a plan to begin phasing students back into buildings for some in-person instruction in January. The plan, however, hinges on drastically improved COVID-19 metrics, which have been trending poorly in Montgomery County since late October.
- Montgomery County students organized a large protest in Gaithersburg this summer, calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, as widespread demonstrations unfolded across the nation following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
- In late July, Montgomery County’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, issued a health directive prohibiting private schools from holding in-person classes in the fall. He received pushback from the governor and after a week of back-and-forth, Gayles rescinded his order.
- After the state mandated schools across Maryland close due to the coronavirus, Montgomery County parents scrambled to find child care and worried about their children’s academic progress.
- After more than a year of work, and several months of delays, MCPS and consultants hired to review the district’s school boundaries released a 580-page intermediate report outlining preliminary findings. (A school district spokesman said the next day the report was posted to the school district website by accident.)
- More than 1,000 people signed a petition calling on MCPS to rename Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. They said it is reprehensible that the school is named after Richadrd Montgomery, who was a slave owner.
- Bethesda Beat followed several students, teachers and administrators through the first day of the 2020-21 academic year.
- When Hogan released guidelines in late August detailing when it is safe for school buildings to reopen, he said all counties throughout the state met the new metrics, including Montgomery County. The assertion created tension in the county, where local officials said COVID-19’s transmission rate was too high to safely reopen.
- As it began to plan for a possible reopening of school buildings in July, MCPS gave members of the press a tour of a Rockville elementary school, outfitted with possible distancing measures and other precautions intended to prevent the coronavirus’ spread.
- Data obtained and analyzed by Bethesda Beat show about half of MCPS third-grade students are unable to read at grade level, which experts say could affect them for the rest of their lives.