As Montgomery County, Maryland, students and staff prepare to return to in-person learning next month, the county school board met Tuesday to discuss safety protocols and voted to change some graduation requirements for 2021 seniors.
Derek Turner, chief of engagement, innovation and operations for Montgomery County Public Schools, said that face masks, social distancing and using hand sanitizer will be the main safety methods used by students and staff, calling the three methods “the trifecta of keeping our staff and students safe.”
In addition, he said, thermometers will be administered to all families, and students and staff will be required to fill out a health attestation each week, answering a series of questions about the individual’s contact with COVID-19, potential symptoms and whether they have tested positive. The form will be provided in multiple languages.
As an additional safety protocol, Turner said that the county plans “pool testing,” which will be a voluntary testing of asymptomatic students and staff on a regular basis, starting March 15.
He said that with support from Gov. Larry Hogan, the county will get 50,000 rapid testing kits for pool testing in schools. The county school administration is asking for $5 million to begin the pool testing system for the rest of the year.
If one person tests positive in a class, then the entire class will need to quarantine and move to virtual learning while each students is tested individually.
The Montgomery County Board of Education voted Feb. 9 for staff and students to return to in-person learning, starting March 1 for students with special needs and students in Career and Technical Education programs. Other students and staff will return March 15, with the exception of students who selected to remain virtual.
Seth Adams, the director of facilities management for MCPS, told the board, which met in a combination of virtual and in-person attendance, that more than 65,000 air filters have been changed and 5,000 air cleaner systems have been placed in classrooms and health rooms.
Adams told the school board that water fountains will be out of service, but water bottle stations will be open or installed in schools.
Turner said 5,427 county public school staff members have received vaccinations; several board members argued that that’s not enough, given that more than 24,000 teachers and staff work for the system.
Board President Brenda Wolff said she had asked staff to prepare a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich “to see if we could prioritize teachers” in future vaccination plans.
The board voted unanimously to change the graduation requirements for 2021 seniors.
Students now only need three math credits, including one in algebra/data analysis and one in geometry, a half-credit in physical education and a total of 21 credits. These are the Maryland state requirements; the board voted to waive the county’s extra standards.
Additionally, students have the option to attend summer school to fulfill graduation requirements.
Niki Hazel, associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs at MCPS, said that they are asking for a waiver for summer school fees for students.
Hazel said that students are allowed to request a reduced schedule this semester and make up credits during the summer or in another school year.
Students will also be able to take up to two courses that aren’t graduation requirements as pass/fail. They can also retroactively apply the pass/fail standards for last semester.
Meal services will continue for in-person and virtual learning students, said Essie McGuire, associate superintendent for operations.
Associate Supt. Diane D. Morris said that students have until Friday to notify schools if they want to return to in-person learning. Some schools currently have a waiting list, because capacity has been reduced she said.
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