Montgomery County School Board Tentatively Approves In-Person Learning Plan

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to tentatively approve a phased-in return to in-person learning beginning Jan. 12, 2021.

A final vote is scheduled for Dec. 3. In-person learning will only begin if public health conditions allow it. On Friday, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) officials presented a matrix that shows what metrics are being used to evaluate a safe phased-in return to school buildings. It uses the 14-day average new case rate per 100,000 people and the 14-day average test positivity rate. The measures are based on CDC guidelines, MCPS Spokesperson Derek Turner said.

Montgomery County uses the seven-day new case average per 100,000 residents and the 14-day COVID-19 test positivity rate as primary indicators of coronavirus transmission. As of Tuesday, the former indicates a high risk of transmission while the latter indicates a low risk.

In January, students in discrete special education programs at all levels will be among the first to return to school buildings, if the health metrics allow it, said Learning, Achievement, and Administration Director Dr. Peter Moran at a board meeting Friday.

If health conditions remain safe based on CDC guidelines, a larger group phase-in will begin Feb. 1, 2021.

MCPS will send a survey to every family where they must indicate their preference for their child[ren] to return to buildings or remain in a virtual learning model. Parents can change their minds and switch to virtual learning at any point. However switching from virtual to hybrid depends on space availability in schools. The survey window is Nov. 11 to Dec. 3.

Based on the survey, MCPS and school leaders will determine the best learning model for students. The results will determine the number and locations of schools needed for in-person learning, Moran said on Tuesday. Because the survey results will differ from school to school, principals and assistant principals will have to work to customize the learning experience to fit the specific needs of their school community, he said.

Jennifer Webster, a director of learning, achievement and administration for MCPS, said the school system will have to follow up with families to make sure each responds. The responses will also help determine transportation needs.

MCPS expects families to hear more about what the hybrid learning model would potentially look like in January.

“We currently anticipate that schools will be able to provide families with more specific information about what the in-person engagement will look like for their children in January,” Webster said.

It is a priority that students stay with their current teachers and classmates, however it’s possible some switching-around may be necessary when some teachers re-enter the classroom, Webster said.

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