More public schools in Montgomery County will soon transition back to virtual learning as COVID-19 cases continue to hinder school operations.
Staffing shortages from the classroom to the bus stop have made staying open untenable for sixteen schools, forcing them to go virtual for at least 10 days beginning Thursday.
“There have been and will continue to be times when health or operational reasons are going to compromise the benefits of in-person,” Montgomery County Public Schools interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight said.
She said the decision to go virtual is made on a case-by-case basis and depends on a variety of factors, including staffing, student absences and positive cases.
She said MCPS will not establish specific thresholds to trigger an automatic transition to virtual learning.
“We have 209 schools, and if we were to come up with a criteria, that criteria is not going to speak to what the circumstances are in a small school, how the circumstances differ in a large school,” McKnight said.
To free up more staff, MCPS is asking the county’s health department to take over contact tracing responsibilities. It’s also requesting 190,000 rapid home COVID-19 test kits be provided to the district every other week. Both requests received overwhelming support at Tuesday’s Montgomery County Council meeting.
The same cannot be said for the other item on the council’s agenda: a potential vaccine requirement to enter certain businesses.
“If you pass a vaccine passport in Montgomery County, you will kill my family business and many others like it,” said Nicole Eckenrode, who owns a gym.
Almost two dozen residents and representatives from several local chambers of commerce spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing. All of them are either deeply concerned about the measure or outright opposed to it.
“This absolutely would require hiring additional staff that we can not afford to hire nor can we find,” Maryland Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO Amy Rohrer said.
For some on the council, the vote is yet another impossible decision thrust upon them by the pandemic.
“For those of you who are facing term limits, we are coming for your seats,” said Bethany Mandel, who opposes the proof of vaccine requirement. “For those who plan to run again, we’re coming for yours.”
A second public hearing will be held Jan. 25 ahead of a potential vote.
To address staffing shortages, MCPS increased pay for substitute teachers.
Council members plan to ask Gov. Larry Hogan to use his executive power to allow in-school testing with an opt-out option for parents. Currently, parents can only opt in to testing.
The following schools will have virtual learning Thursday through Jan. 29, returning to classrooms Jan. 31:
- Beall Elementary School
- Briggs Chaney Middle School
- Brookhaven Elementary School
- Clopper Mill Elementary School
- Captain James E. Daly Elementary School
- Gaithersburg Elementary School
- Glenallan Elementary School
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School
- Lakelands Park Middle School
- Neelsville Middle School
- Paint Branch High School
- RICA – John L. Gildner Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents
- Sargent Shriver Elementary School
- Twinbrook Elementary School
- Watkins Mill Elementary School
- Whetstone Elementary School