Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) officials stressed their commitment to in-person learning amid the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, but will consider transitioning individual schools to virtual learning as staff and bus driver shortages continue.
“We are asking buses to maximize the number of runs that they’re doing, we are deploying central office staff to schools and asking staff to cover classes on top of their traditional workload,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight said during a virtual meeting Wednesday night. MCPS is looking at staff absences, unfilled substitute requests and unserved bus routes to determine if a “very short-term” transition to virtual learning in an individual school would be necessary. Last week, 90 bus routes did not pick up students Wednesday morning because so many drivers called out, according to MCPS officials.
More than 2,800 public questions and comments flooded the Zoom webinar Q&A chat box throughout the evening. Many expressed frustration that officials still were not properly addressing community concerns. Many called for the school system to revert to temporary virtual learning and others urged a hybrid learning option.
An online petition calling on MCPS to revert to virtual learning has reached nearly 17,000 signatures as of Wednesday night.
McKnight said when schools first initiated virtual learning in March 2020, officials did not know what to expect. After months passed, it became clear that the pandemic is long-term. She said virtual learning had consequences on some students, like early learners and students who are impacted by free and reduced-price meals.
“In-person learning is absolutely the best opportunity for those students to engage. And let’s not mention some of the gaps that existed within those very groups prior to the pandemic. And so that’s why that commitment stands and it stands firm,” McKnight said.