There is still no date set for students in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools to return to their classrooms, but the Board of Education did hear from the superintendent on the issue this week.
“Everyone understands that we’re not going to open the schools tomorrow,” Superintendent Jack Smith told the board Tuesday.
“It’s going to take a tremendous amount of planning and logistical building of systems and structures in order to open schools.”
He said the board would have to keep planning for the eventual return of students, repeating that talking about the plans shouldn’t be seen as a signal that reopening is imminent.
Board member Patricia O’Neill asked about the progress the school system is making on upgrading HVAC systems and installing filters in order to improve ventilation — a concern tied to making schools safer during the pandemic.
“We are doing the work,” Smith said, but he noted that there’s a request for supplemental funding before the Montgomery County Council. “If we don’t receive that supplementary funding, then we’re going to take that money out of some other area.”
The board also touched on several other topics during Tuesday’s session.
Virus load among staff
The board was shown a slide that revealed 79 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The slide referred to “MCPS employees who have been out of work due to testing positive for COVID-19,” but didn’t specify whether they were all on-site employees and where they were working.
When asked about it by board member Karla Silvestre, Associate Superintendent for Operations Essie McGuire said, “It’s a mix, although certainly it’s predominantly employees who’ve been working on-site as opposed to remote.”
The discussion of COVID-19 among staff prompted board member Jeanette Dixon to remind everyone to wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands.
“The sooner we can get ahead of this pandemic, the sooner we can return to schools, open businesses and hopefully at some point, have some more normalcy in our lives.”
O’Neill said she had been getting feedback from “frustrated teachers,” noting that many students are not engaged with online learning.
“They check in, they turn off the camera, don’t participate” and are not doing assignments, she said.
O’Neill said she worried that getting a handle on how widespread the problem is may not be clear for a while.
“I know the proof will be in the pudding at the end of the marking period, but I am concerned that may be happening more widely than we’re totally aware,” she said.
Smith said, “We have to be proactive, and really completely aware of who we’re hearing from, who we’re not hearing from and reaching out persistently.”
Sean McGee, director of learning, achievement and administration, told the board that unofficial enrollment figures sent to the Maryland State Department of Education showed that fewer students than projected are enrolled. As of Sept. 13, 162,342 students were reported as enrolled. As of Sept. 30, that number was 161,150.
But what was most striking was the number of students who’ve withdrawn to attend “non-public” schools outside the county. According to McGee, that number went from 148 last year to 1,018 this year.
The number of students who withdrew from MCPS to attend non-public schools within Montgomery County was closer to last year’s figure, 986 in the 2019-2020 school year compared to 1,189 this year.
- Sign up for WTOP alerts
- Latest coronavirus test results in DC, Maryland and Virginia
- Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know
- Coronavirus resources: Get and give help in DC, Maryland and Virginia
- Trump halts COVID-19 relief talks until after election
- As 39,000 eviction filings loom, DC extends renter protections
- DC-area lawmakers: White House coronavirus spread ‘out of control’