Montgomery County to release information on back-to-school plans this weekend

A school bus sits outside College Gardens Elementary School in Rockville, Maryland. Montgomery County school officials are working on plans that could include in-school instruction in the fall.

Essie McGuire, executive director of the Office of MCPS COO, walked reporters though the procedures to get students inside schools should they return to class in the fall.

Montgomery County School officials say they are working to see how many students would need transportation—seating would be limited to provide for social distancing.

Gboyinde Onijala, Communications Specialist with MCPS, said plans are still being worked out and that parents will be getting contacted by school officials throughout July and August.

If students return to class, Montgomery County schools would operate buses at 25% capacity, about 12 students per bus.

Plenty of visual cues are provided in MCPS classrooms to help remind students to maintain their social distance.

“X” marks the spot where students should sit to keep their distance at large work tables in an MCPS elementary school classroom.

Hand sanitizer dispensers are prominent in MCPS classrooms in this mock up of what students might find if officials decide students should return to school buildings in the fall.

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Parents will be getting information on what back-to-school might look like as early as this weekend, according to Montgomery County, Maryland, School officials.

At a walk-through of College Gardens Elementary School in Rockville, Maryland, Essie McGuire, executive director in the Office of the Chief Operating Officer, explained that the school had been set up to illustrate how setups on buses and in classrooms will be different than in past years.

“The first thing that many students will see is the school bus,” McGuire said, pointing to a parked bus outside the front of the school.

McGuire explained that recommended seating patterns would mean that every other row of seats on each bus would remain empty.

“That takes our capacity to about 25%,” she said.

Asked about the school system’s ability to operate bus service with so few students aboard, McGuire said, “We will need to really confirm which students need that transportation and then design the bus routes to be very targeted to be sure that we can provide the transportation for the students who need it.”

Pointing to the walkway leading to the front doors of the school, McGuire said, “As you’ll see here, we have green tape marking spaces that are six feet apart.”

Students would then be brought inside in small groups, with hash-marks in hallways providing more visual cues.

Inside classrooms, desks are placed in staggered spaces so that they could maintain a distance of 6 feet. Underneath the desks, bright red squares with a large number “6” in white offer another cue to students to keep their distance.

On at least one desk in every room, there were bottles of hand sanitizer, some in gallon-sized jugs.

In some classrooms, large work tables, 6 feet in length, had two seats at each end, allowing students to keep their distance while getting instruction.

The plans for opening schools Aug. 31 are still being worked on, said MCPS Communications Specialist Gboyinde Onijala. Parents will be hearing from school officials as the decisions are made.

“Starting this weekend, the goal is to share some of our initial considerations” for opening schools, said Onijala.

Parents and community members were surveyed by MCPS on what they would like to see for the coming school year. The deadline to respond was this week, and school officials said work on analyzing the data is just getting underway.

Thursday’s walk-through was designed to give an idea of how things might be organized for in-school instruction, and it could look different depending on the individual school building.

“It doesn’t mean that plan is final and that’s what’s going to happen come Aug. 31,” Onijala said.

The school board meets July 14, and Onijala said there will be further discussion on whether the schools will have “blended learning” where students come in two days a week and have at-home instruction the rest of the time, or whether schools will return to the virtual learning five days a week.

“These are the things we’re talking through. We don’t have all the answers. I wish I could tell you that we do,” said Onijala.

MCPS has launched a survey designed to gather community input around key elements that will need to be included in our recovery plan for the fall.

“When completing this survey, please keep in mind that we are considering a number of scenarios, including continuing with remote learning; engaging in a hybrid model that includes some face-to-face instruction and some remote learning; and providing in-person learning with restrictions in place, such as physical distancing and improved hygiene requirements,” the school system said in a statement introducing the survey.

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