School Board Postpones Vote on Final Reopening Plan

The Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously postponed its vote on a final school reopening plan until Dec. 15.

The school board was scheduled to take final action on a phased return to in-person learning at a meeting Thursday. However, members said they want Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to re-evaluate its health metrics and consider more heavily prioritizing elementary school students.

“We’ve been following the health metrics, and then the heads of national agencies say kids are safest in school,” said Board Member Karla Silvestre. Two weeks ago, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said schools are one of the safest places for children to be in. He said data strongly supports that K-12 schools aren’t really problem areas as small family gatherings are.

“The truth is for kids K-12, one of the safest place[s] they can be from our perspective is to remain in school, and it’s really important that following the data, making sure we don’t make emotional decisions about what to close and what not to close,” Redfield said during a Nov. 19 White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing.

“I’m here to say, clearly, the data strongly supports that K through 12 schools, as well as institutes of higher learning really are not where we’re having our challenges, and it would be counterproductive from my point of view, from a public health point of view, just in containing the epidemic if there was an emotional response to say, ‘Let’s close the schools.’”

Silvestre suggested waiting and taking a second look at the metrics the county is using.

MCPS uses a health metrics matrix 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 previously said.

Newly-appointed Board President Brenda Wolff said she thinks elementary school students should be a priority group for in-person learning.

“I’m really concerned about our youngest learners, those that can’t read. That is a big problem if they can’t read and we really need to get them back in school,” Wolff said.

MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith said the school system will look at more heavily prioritizing in-person learning for elementary school students. He said MCPS will also look at its metrics system over the next couple of weeks before the Dec. 15 school board meeting.

In January 2021, 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. High school students in some career and technical education (CTE) programs would also be included in the January phase-in. If health conditions continue to improve, a larger group phase-in will begin Feb. 1.

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