Gayles Says ‘Realities Have Changed,’ In-School Learning is Not Safe

In-school learning is not a safe option right now, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said at a Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) media briefing Wednesday. 

MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith announced Tuesday that the first semester of the 2020-21 academic year, beginning Aug. 31 and ending on Jan. 21, 2021, will be virtual-only instruction. In the letter and during the briefing, Smith acknowledged that Gayles’ guidance plays a big role in MCPS decision-making, and Gayles said the county isn’t ready. 

“The guidance that we provided to the MCPS team is rooted in the reality that the numbers have not improved overall in our county as well as the state and the nation to a point where it’s safe to have our children go back to school,” Gayles said. 

“Quite frankly, over the last several weeks we have moved from a place where we had positive momentum not only here in Montgomery County, across the state of Maryland, but across the country. Our realities have changed over the last several weeks that have shown us that there are over 40 states that are experiencing increases in cases including in Maryland right now.” 

According to the Montgomery County COVID-19 Dashboard, six of the past 14 days have had a decrease in new COVID-19 cases from the day before. Also, five of the past 14 days have seen a decrease in the number of patients going to the emergency room for coronavirus-related symptoms. Acute care beds have been at adequate capacity for seven of the past 14 days. Gayles said Maryland has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in those ages 0-19, especially teenagers, another reason not to open school buildings. 

Smith said that in October MCPS will work with Gayles to look at current information and discuss the second semester, while keeping in close touch with the school board. He said by the beginning of November MCPS will be able to determine if it can begin to put strategies and systems in place that would allow for a blended learning model at the start of the second semester, which begins Feb. 1, 2021. 

“[We will] continue this effort together until such time that the world shifts and hopefully that will be at the end of January, we will be able to shift the world of school significantly,” Smith said. He said MCPS will continue putting information out ahead of the Aug. 6 school board meeting, when the updated plan will be presented to board members. 

Watch Gayles explain the reasoning behind his guidance to MCPS:

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