Montgomery County school superintendent on virtual learning plans for fall

The plan for the first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year in Montgomery County, Maryland, will be different from the spring semester, when the coronavirus pandemic closed schools.

In a Wednesday morning briefing, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said the spring was a response to an emergency, and that the fall semester will have more structure for students.

MCPS will return to a more “standardized grading system,” Smith said.

“We will have to revise our grading system,” he said, but “we want a framework that really reflects the students’ work — their learning and their progress.”

He said that data submitted to the Board of Education showed that most high school students chose to receive letter grades rather than a pass/fail option.

Smith also said that MCPS is looking to the Maryland State Department of Education for more guidance, such as information on how cases of COVID-19 would be handled when classes are expected to resume in late January to early February.

“If there is a case identified in school, we need a consistent, statewide response,” he said.

The superintendent added that some state policies will have to be adjusted to accommodate the circumstances of continued distance learning.

“One that needs to be changed this coming year, right away, is around service learning. The state of Maryland requires it. It’s a very different world; they need to change that right now for all the students,” Smith said.

The decision to continue distance learning for the semester came after consultation with county Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, who said that given the current conditions and the spread of the coronavirus, he could not recommend in-class instruction for the fall.

The announcement came late Tuesday afternoon, and Smith said he had been in touch with the members of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The board will vote on the decision at its Aug. 6 meeting.

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