The majority of the 20 members of the public speaking at Thursday’s Montgomery County Public Schools’ Board of Education meeting spoke out strongly against the current COVID-19 quarantine guidelines and urged schools to use rapid testing.
Following Department Health and Human Services’ guidance, MCPS quarantines students who show one sign of the virus, including sneezing and coughing, as well as many of their nearby classmates until COVID tests are returned. This has led to more than 1,000 students under quarantine and out of the school buildings during the first week of school.
However, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight sent out a community update Wednesday, noting, “MCPS will be receiving rapid tests for every school from both the state and county by the end of next week. The use of these tests, in conjunction with the other safety measures we have in place, will hopefully help us keep more students in school. We will be receiving further guidance from DHHS on the implementation of this rapid testing program and will provide information to you as quickly as possible.”
During the first week of school, 1,781 students were sent home to quarantine either because they had a symptom or because they were near someone with a symptom. There were 44 positive cases.
Rapid on-site testing is expected to begin “as early as next week,” according to school administrators. One thousands boxes of rapid tests were ordered.
Many of the speakers had submitted their comments to the BOE before the community message was sent out.
Keep students in school as long as possible, Dr. Margery Smelkinson told the board. “Ensure only those who were affected stay home.”
Steven Posnack, a parent of a third and fifth grader, called the current quarantine policy absurd and called for an immediate stop. Dr. Nikki Gillum Posnack agreed, noting, “This irrational policy needs to be repealed immediately. Over-quarantining healthy children violates the Maryland State Board of Education resolution to provide 1,080 hours of instruction with a teacher in a classroom.”
Added Nicole Brown, the mother of an elementary school student, “Right now, the single biggest risk to kids in school is quarantining.”
Other parents talked about their kindergarteners forced to stay out of school only to learn that no one had COVID after all.
Avery Donart, a fifth grade student, said so far the new school year has made him “really anxious,” and he wished that he could eat lunch outside every day and have his school nurse conduct tests for COVID right in the building.
During Thursday’s BOE meeting, the board is expected to discuss whether to mandate that all staff be vaccinated and to set a time line for that and details about the use of rapid COVID testing in the building.
“We are all in this together,” said Boardmember Patricia O’Neill. “All of us want kids in school in a health and safe way.”
@Lynne4Students you stand by this quarantine guidance that is a national outlier in terms of effectively making over 1,000 children truant? Here’s a crowdsourced look at the classrooms you helped close as of today @hansriemer want to act as the board of health now? pic.twitter.com/Xq0NWVcML8
— Dr. Jennifer Reesman (@jenreesman) September 9, 2021