Questions linger over plans to go back into Montgomery County school buildings

As school districts across the D.C. region make plans for the start of the school year, the president of the Montgomery County Education Association in Maryland said teachers would prefer to be back with their students.

“Gosh, teachers really want to get back and work with kids in the classroom. There’s no substitute for that,” Christopher Lloyd said.

Like their students, he said teachers are weary of remote learning. “This is not the preferred method of instruction — online instruction is just not the preferred method.”

But there are still significant concerns about the advisability of getting back to in-person instruction.

Noting the Montgomery County Public Schools’ recent walk-through with reporters at College Gardens Elementary, which showed staffers sitting at desks positioned to provide 6 feet of social distancing, Lloyd said, “Well of course, adults are going to follow directions” and remain inside the marked off areas and keep their face coverings on.

“What happens when you introduce an 11-year-old into that?”

On Aug. 12, athletics practices are scheduled to begin, but Lloyd said a lot of teachers, who also serve as coaches, are asking how that will work.

“We know it won’t be practice as normal,” Lloyd said.

On Wednesday, Montgomery County school Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith was asked about that, and he explained that high school sports are governed by an athletic association that works under the auspices of the Maryland State Department of Education.

“I expect we’ll know in the next couple of weeks what the status of high school sports will be and how that will move forward,” Smith said.

While the state has offered guidelines on how practices can be held, those guidelines, posted online in the Maryland Public Schools Secondary Athletic Association’s “Roadmap for Return to Interscholastic Athletics,” also say that local school systems have “the flexibility to navigate county COVID-19 restrictions and administer interscholastic athletic opportunities based on local conditions.”

“A lot of my folks are asking the board to be able to make a decision on this so that we can go forward. And that’s one of the first things actually that the board’s going to have to do prior to the start of school,” Lloyd said.

“As much as we want kids to get back into fall sports, right now I can’t see a way — sitting here in the middle of July — that happens because of the potential transmission of the disease,” Lloyd said.

There are other concerns teachers have, including, “What happens when a child exhibits flu symptoms, and we don’t have the testing capacity to even know if it’s [COVID-19] or the flu?” Lloyd said.

He also wonders about how schools will deal with possible outbreaks within their buildings and what metrics would be used to determine if a school should be closed due to confirmed COVID-19 cases.

One thing that hasn’t changed, even with the coronavirus pandemic, is the annual hiring of new teachers.

While they are not getting in-person orientation, they are preparing — online — to teach when school opens Aug. 31.

The advice that veteran teachers will be sharing, Lloyd said, is, “Teachers are flexible people who make the best of any situation that’s handed to them.”

Lloyd acknowledged that it is a big challenge for teachers new to the profession. “You are now going to start a school year, without seeing — in real life — your students, your colleagues, your school.”

Lloyd was asked if veteran teachers might be considering early retirements.

WTOP has talked to one teacher who asked that his name not be used, but explained because he is in his 60s and his wife is a cancer survivor, he does not know if he’ll return to the classroom.

There is not an uptick in the number of teachers opting for retirement, according to Smith.

Lloyd concurred.

“We have seen a normal number of retirements,” Lloyd said, but there are some teachers who wonder how much longer they are willing to work under the shifting conditions that the coronavirus has created.

On the flip side, Lloyd said there are some others who are eligible for retirement, but who are concerned about the economy and who are opting to stay on.

“Once we get into the fall, and once we get into the winter, that’s where I’m looking to see” how many teachers will begin to put in their paperwork to retire, Lloyd said.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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