Select Montgomery Co. students could return to school buildings by end of February

Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school system, could see some “small groups” of special education and career and technical education students return to school buildings “for specific services” by the end of February.

The final decision on when schools will open to all students will come at the Board of Education meeting Feb. 23.

In the Board of Education meeting Thursday night, several parents submitted testimony voicing their frustration that the schools haven’t opened for in-person learning earlier.

Board member Rebecca Smondrowski pressed Superintendent Jack Smith for more details on when a final decision on school reopening would be made, and how they would operate when they do open.

She told the board that parents are getting mixed information about what the return to school will look like and said, “I’ve gotten floods of people who are implying that when we open, it’s just going to be a babysitting service for their kids, especially for high school kids.”

Board member Pat O’Neill said, “Many people expected that we would take a vote today” on when to return to school. She said that Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that he would take whatever action he could legally to push schools to open by March 1 had also generated more questions about when students would return to the classroom.

Smith said after the next board meeting that on Feb. 9, “Schools will swing into full communication mode with families” to explain how schools will open in the next few weeks. He said that there would be a phased process and that several models, including a mix of in-person and virtual learning, are under consideration.

A final vote on school reopening would come when the school board meets Feb. 23, and the target date for return to school buildings remains March 15.

Smith said it would be a “very significant day when we open the school doors and bring in whole grade levels of students.”

But Smith again sought to tamp down expectations that all students would be back in school at the same time for in-person instruction.

Smith stressed that schools could reopen with just “40, or 50 or 60%” of any grade level in school buildings at first.

Board member Lynne Harris said, “I just can’t say strongly enough that I believe we need to be moving forward as a school system that we are going to open…and not being in a defensive crouch.”

Harris continued, “The evidence is clear that virtual learning works for some, but it does not work for most. And many of our students are suffering potential irreversible learning loss.”

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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.

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