Learning hubs to operate within Montgomery County school buildings

This story is part of “Parenting in a Pandemic,” WTOP’s continuing coverage of how parents are dealing with child care, schooling and more through the coronavirus pandemic.

Montgomery County public schools won’t have in-person learning for the more than 166,000 students in Maryland’s largest school system, but there will be kids headed to school buildings this fall.

They will be among those attending child care “learning hubs” organized by a coalition of child care providers that will work inside of the county’s school buildings. More than a dozen child care providers will be in county school buildings with a projected start date of Sept. 14.

Among those is BAR-T, which has been operating in Montgomery County since 1988. The BAR-T website says it has been “enriching before and after school care for children across our 35 programs that serve both Montgomery and Frederick County.”

Joe Richardson, chief executive of BAR-T, said, as children are dropped off in the morning, there will be temperature checks, and students and staff will wear masks.

Richardson said parents eager to get their children back into some kind of a routine with in-person learning are hoping to have their kids enrolled in one of the more than 12 child care programs like his that are allowed to operate in the schools.

How is it that child care programs can operate when COVID-19 concerns led Montgomery County public schools to continue with distance learning?

Richardson said the model is different.

“Our cohorts are going to be 13 students with two BAR-T staff people. They’re going to be in their own class. They’re not going to cross over with any other groups or any other students,” Richardson said

That’s unlike MCPS, which would have to provide transportation and manage social distancing with a much larger school population.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County Health Officer, agreed that the issue is one of scale.

“There is not a direct comparison — apples to apples — between a child care and school setting,” Gayles said.

However, should there be a COVID-19 outbreak, “We will take whatever necessary action we need to take from a public health perspective,” Gayles said.

Enrollment opened in early August, and Richardson said, “the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Children will be in the program from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

“We’ll take care of all their distance learning, make sure they complete all their assignments,” and when the school day ends, Richardson said kids will have a chance to take part in sports and clubs “and allow the kids to interact with each other, which is what I think a lot of kids are missing these days,” he said.

Safety has also been an issue parents have raised. Richardson said he has also been working on accumulating personal protective equipment aside from just masks.

“We’re looking into face shields, cleaning equipment, gloves, just things that everybody needs,” he said.

And, he repeated, participants will be kept within their groups of no more than 13 kids.

Everyone will have to wear masks, but of course, Richardson said when it comes time for lunch and snacks, that presents an issue.

He anticipates being able to have kids eat outside as long as the weather is good, but long term, “We’re looking at getting plexiglass dividers” and taking other precautions, he said.

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