Hundreds of thousands return to classes in DC, Md. and Va.

Hundreds of thousands of public school students in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. begin a new year Monday.

Who is returning

In D.C., more than 90,000 DCPS students are back in the classroom again.

In Maryland, students returned to classes in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Charles and Baltimore counties, as well as in Baltimore City.



In Virginia, students in Arlington and Falls Church returned to school. And D.C. students also went back.

Students in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties will return to school Tuesday. Other school systems will go back after Labor Day.

D.C.

On the first day of school in D.C., students arriving at the new building that houses the School Within School at Goding were greeted by parents and volunteers holding signs urging drivers to slow down through school zones.

One volunteer holding up a sign urging drivers to slow down through school zones.

But inside for the ribbon cutting that celebrated the building’s opening, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was all smiles and excitement as she announced a trend of declining enrollment in city schools was starting to reverse itself again.

“Trends in enrollment are going back up and families are coming back to school,” said Bowser, who urged city parents to enroll their kids in pre-school classes the city offers.

The final enrollment numbers won’t be known until early October, but total enrollment last year was just over 94,000 students. But even with enrollment up, D.C. Public Schools is facing many of the same challenges that other school systems are facing, including staffing.

Going into the year, the city has about 150 teaching positions it still needs to fill, up about 50 from last year’s vacancies. Schools chancellor Lewis Ferebee said the city is using different approaches to fill those jobs.

Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, Chancellor of DC Public Schools, speaks at the grand opening of School-Within-School at Goding.

“It’s a combination of strategies,” said Ferebee. “We do have some contracting staff. We have access to a rich substitute pool. Then we also champion our central service team to support schools as well.

But he said every classroom has the staff it needs to start the year.

“Nationally, there is a teacher shortage, and as you can imagine it is impacting school districts in the region and specifically DCPS,” said Ferebee.

Several former Goding teachers were also in attendance for the ribbon cutting, leading the mayor to half-jokingly remind them “you can come back and teach with us.”

It’s also been a busy few days for DC’s Department of General Services, which said it had nearly 900 work orders to fill at schools around the city in the weeks leading up to Monday. As of Monday morning, there were about 100 tasks still to be done, said DC DGS Director Keith Anderson.

“We work very hard with DCPS to prioritize the work orders to have a successful school opening,” said Anderson. “We’re in a very good place.”

He said the work orders can be a variety of different things, but said school buildings city-wide were ready to go.

“There’s nothing that is impacting any facility from opening,” said Anderson. “There’s no work orders that would prevent any instruction in the classroom.”

Maryland

Montgomery County

WTOP's Luke Lukert is reporting on the first day of school from Rockville High School.

Montgomery County Superintendent Monifa McKnight tells WTOP’s Luke Lukert that she feels the vision for this school year “all together now,” is coming together as about 158,000 students head back to classes.

While other systems continue to work to fill vacancies, Montgomery County is 99% staffed for the first day of school — a feat McKnight credits community members and parents who signed up to substitute teach to fill in gaps.

“Everyone just came together, she said. “I often recognize that as the strength of our community coming together to solve a problem. And we did it.”

Teachers trained over the summer and the system invested in social emotional wellness staff to ensure each high school has a social worker.

The county opened Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Gaithersburg on Monday. A few schools look a little different. Westover Elementary School, Odesa Shannon Middle School and John F. Kennedy High School all have additions.

Schools hired staff development teachers and full time reading specialists to bring a renewed focus on equitable teaching and learning.

“This year, we intentionally created positions to help allow our teachers the space and support to really focus on that learning in the classroom in a very intentional way,” McKnight told WTOP.

Prince George’s County

Listen to Shayna Estulin's report at Cherokee Lane Elementary School.

Prince George’s County Public Schools, which has roughly 131,000 students, is the only system in the D.C. metro area where students will be required to wear masks to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Families line up outside of Cherokee Lane Elementary School in Prince George’s County for the first day of school. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)

But the masking requirement may not last long. Chief Executive Officer Monica Goldson tells WTOP’s Shayna Estulin that since community transition seems to be trending down, an announcement making masks optional could come as soon as the middle of this week.

Some don’t take issue with the rule.

The Henry family was the first to arrive at Cherokee Lane Elementary School — a newly built school in Hyattsville. Norma Davis, who dropped her four grandkids off, told WTOP’s Shayna Estulin she’s OK with the kids masking up.

“I think it’s a good thing because then they will be protected,” Davis said. “They won’t be coming home with any virus.”

Families line up outside of Cherokee Lane Elementary School in Prince George’s County for the first day of school. (WTOP/Shayna Estulin)

Last week, Prince George’s County’s superintendent said the school had 900 open positions. But Goldson said that number is “slowly dwindling” in part because the system is repositioning 150 central office staff back into classrooms.

“We have a lot of retirees who decided to come back and help us out because they just could not fathom our students not having a teacher,” Goldson said. “So we’re grateful for every last bit of all those pieces of the puzzle coming together.”

The county’s also hiring mental health practitioners. The are 198 schools in the system and 130 have practitioners but the goal is to have one in each building.

“We want to make sure that our schools are places where students feel comfortable going to a mental health practitioner, to anyone to talk through coping strategies,” Goldson said. “And for families to be able to talk to them mental health practitioners as well.

Virginia

Arlington County 

Some changes are coming to schools in Arlington this year including increased security, new curriculum resources and a new dress code.

Road safety

According to the Maryland State Police, more than 600,000 Maryland students ride buses to school during the year. Drivers are urged to watch for children walking to school and those getting on and off school buses.

In Maryland, drivers must stop at least 20 feet from the bus, regardless of which direction they are going, according to police. Don’t pass any buses until their stop signals and flashing lights are off and the bus is moving.

In Maryland, a driver could get fined $250 if he’s caught on camera violating these laws, and up to $570 and a three-point penalty if he’s stopped by a police officer.

school bus safety graphic
Here’s a look at what the law requires in Maryland. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy Maryland State Police)

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that, from 2011 to 2020, 218 school-age children died in school transportation-related crashes nationally.

The Maryland Center for School Safety urges drivers to maintain a safe distance and remember that kids may not behave as you would expect them to when they go to and from school buses.

WTOP’s John Domen is reporting from School Within School at Goding. WTOP’s Luke Lukert is reporting on the first day of school from Rockville High School. WTOP’s Shayna Estulin is reporting from Cherokee Lane Elementary School.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

Colleen Kelleher

Colleen Kelleher is an award-winning journalist who has been with WTOP since 1996. Kelleher joined WTOP as the afternoon radio writer and night and weekend editor and made the move to WTOP.com in 2001. Now she works early mornings as the site's Senior Digital Editor.

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