MCPS Notifies Employees That Formal Reopening Planning is Underway

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) employees were notified on Friday that formal planning for some in-person instruction is beginning. 

Last week Gov. Larry Hogan announced that all 24 Maryland jurisdictions have state-approved plans to bring at least some students back into school buildings this fall. In late August Hogan said eight school systems did not include any in-person learning in their fall semester plans, which he said was not acceptable.

The school system is working on plans to possibly bring back small groups of students with specific needs like those in special education programs and those receiving language services, said MCPS Spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala. She said the school board will discuss more during its next meeting on Oct. 6 and MCPS does not plan on sending out a community message before then.

An agreement between MCPS and the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) requires that MCPS gives MCEA at least a 45-day notice before starting in-person learning. Friday’s letter emphasized that the official notice does not mean students will be back in school in 45 days. 

“To be clear, this does not mean that in-person instruction will begin in 45 days. Instead, it means that we can reopen impact bargaining and do more in-depth collaborative planning for the eventual return to instruction in buildings,” it reads. It also says “some groups of staff and students” will return when it is safe, not all. 

The letter was signed by MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith, MCEA President Christopher Lloyd, SEIU Local 500 President Pia Morrison and President of the Association of Administrators and Principals/Business and Operations Administrators Dr. Christine Handy. They said they know online learning isn’t the same as in-person. 

“While not perfect, the virtual-only learning model has provided a solid foundation that meets the needs of many. This foundation is the product of the dedication and hard work of every staff member in our district. However, we also recognize that virtual learning cannot replace the in-person educational experience for our students. When health and safety conditions allow, we will begin a phased transition back to in-person instruction to ensure all students have the access and opportunity they need to reach their full potential while maintaining student and staff safety,” the letter reads.

Superintendent Smith has previously underlined the chaos COVID-19 has caused for educators, students and families. 

“No one would choose this. No one did choose this situation. It has been thrust upon all of us,” he said during last week’s school board meeting.

“We just have to keep thinking about what’s working, what’s not working and how to make it better in this very unusual circumstance that none of us have experienced before, because none of us in this conversation right now were alive in 1918, which is kind of the closest thing to this.”

Read the letter sent to MCPS faculty:

Dear Colleagues:

We want to first and foremost share our deep appreciation for all you have done, and continue to do, to support our students in these unprecedented times. There is no question that virtual learning has been difficult for students and staff alike. However, it is also important to acknowledge that virtual learning is an essential part of the statewide effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep our community safe.

We recognize that there have been a number of recent actions at the state level and in surrounding school systems regarding groups of students returning to in-person, in-building instruction. As a result, we write today to share our plans for our continued work together to thoughtfully assess and define appropriate steps for the safe return of some groups of staff and students.

While not perfect, the virtual-only learning model has provided a solid foundation that meets the needs of many. This foundation is the product of the dedication and hard work of every staff member in our district. However, we also recognize that virtual learning cannot replace the in-person educational experience for our students. When health and safety conditions allow, we will begin a phased transition back to in-person instruction to ensure all students have the access and opportunity they need to reach their full potential while maintaining student and staff safety.

We have been working together over the last several weeks to begin exploring strategies for an in-person return. There is mutual interest to ensure enough time to jointly develop a comprehensive plan for the eventual return to in-person instruction.  Thus, today MCPS formally provided employee associations the minimum 45-day notice required by our agreements to legally honor and preserve timelines. To be clear, this does not mean that in-person instruction will begin in 45 days. Instead, it means that we can reopen impact bargaining and do more in-depth collaborative planning for the eventual return to instruction in buildings.

We know that this news may cause apprehension for some people. Please know that the safety of our students and staff is the top priority for us. MCPS is working with county health officials, and we are all closely following state and local health metrics to guide our timing for a phased-in return.

We will continue to work together to build on the ideas and framework for an eventual return to in-person instruction that are included in our Fall 2020 Recovery plan. There is much more to be considered, examined and decided before in-person learning can begin. We will continue to gather input from stakeholders throughout the process. We welcome all of your feedback. We will continue to provide regular updates as we move forward in this effort.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to our students.

Sincerely,

Jack Smith Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Dr. Christine Handy
President, MCAAP / MCBOA

Christopher Lloyd, NBCT
President, MCEA

Pia Morrison
President, SEIU Local 500

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Maryam Shahzad

About Maryam Shahzad

Maryam is a reporter with Montgomery Community Media. She graduated from the University of Maryland in December with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. Previously, she was an intern with MCM. Maryam loves visual media and always says the movie is better than the book. She can be reached at mshahzad@mymcmedia.org or on Twitter @maryam_mcm.

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