Thousands of DC-region students start phased return to classrooms

Thousands of students in the WTOP listening area will return to classrooms Monday morning, marking a small but significant step toward normalcy almost exactly a year since the region saw its first coronavirus outbreak.

Students whose parents opted for a hybrid learning model in five Washington and Baltimore area school districts are coming back to buildings starting in phases for at least a few days per week.

Four of the five districts are in Maryland, where Gov. Larry Hogan had been pushing to bring students back to school buildings by March 1. Until Monday, only a tenth of the state’s K-12 public schools were operating at least partly in person — the lowest in the nation — according to an online tracker from Burbio.

The school systems returning Monday:

  • Montgomery County Public Schools: Kindergarten to 12th grade students with special needs return Monday, along with career and technical education programs — two weeks ahead of their peers in the general student body, who begin a phased starting March 15.
  • Anne Arundel County Public Schools: Prekindergarten through fifth grade students, along with elementary special education students. Grades six, nine and 12 follow with their return on March 8; with remaining grades coming back on March 22.
  • Howard County Public Schools: Phase 1 Group E students return to buildings for five days per week — but effective Monday, all student schedules will change regardless of whether they are returning to classrooms or remaining virtual. Find more details on the HCPS website.
  • Baltimore County Public Schools: BCPS will implement phases I and II of its reopening plan. Students in public separate day schools — Battle Monument, Maiden Choice, Ridge Ruxton and White Oak — return Monday. Students in preschool to second grade return, including students in 3-year-old and 4-year-old programs and prekindergarten.
  • St. Mary’s County Public Schools: All students return Monday for hybrid instruction two days a week.
  • Arlington County Public Schools: Prekindergarten through second grade students resume in-person classes this week, along with students in the countywide elementary special education program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in February that in-person schooling can resume safely with masks, social distancing and other strategies, and vaccination of teachers, while important, is not a prerequisite for reopening.

But some area teachers unions continue to fear that schools have not taken adequate precautions to ensure the safety of their staff. The Montgomery County Education Association overwhelmingly passed a lack of confidence vote against the county’s phased reopening plan and recently led teachers in a car caravan protest over health fears.

CDC officials emphasized that in-person learning has not been identified as a substantial driver of coronavirus spread in American communities, and that transmission among students is considered rare.

Road and school bus safety

With more school buses on the streets than there have been for months, local law enforcement are promising hefty fines for drivers who do not obey traffic laws.

In Howard County, newly-installed external cameras on school buses will capture the license plates of drivers who illegally pass them.

In Virginia, Arlington County police are planning high-visibility traffic enforcement around bus stops.

The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration urges parents and guardians to remind students of pedestrian safety: Look before crossing the street, watch for vehicles leaving their driveway and use crosswalks wherever available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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