School staff working in public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and student-athletes interested in participating in athletics this school year must get vaccinated, as well.
Under the updated requirements for staff, proof of the first vaccination must be done by Sept. 30. Montgomery County Public Schools employees would have until Oct. 29 to get the second dose.
Gboyinde Onijala, spokesperson for MCPS, wrote in an email that “failure to comply will result in progressive discipline up to and including termination from MCPS.”
Medical exemptions would be allowed, but employees would have to provide documentation.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight announced the policy changes for student-athletes during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, stating those eligible to play in winter and spring sports would be required to be vaccinated.
“Those are high-contact sports, and everything we can do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we want to be able to do that,” McKnight said.
The school system also announced changes to its COVID-19 testing protocols during the meeting. Montgomery County schools have fallen under fire recently, as around 1,000 students and staff in the school system have been forced to quarantine over potential exposures to COVID-19. Several parents at the board meeting expressed their anger at the system’s policy.
Dr. Margery Smelkinson, an infectious disease scientist and a parent of four students in the school system, called the policy in place during the first week of school “insane” and urged the board to enact a new process.
“This year, be brave and prioritize our children. The state has tests. Get them, use them and do whatever it takes to keep our kids in school” said Smelkinson, receiving applause from other parents testifying in person at the meeting.
Starting as soon as next week, free rapid tests will be administered to students who are sent to a school’s triage room with suspected COVID-19 symptoms during the school day. Student Welfare and Compliance Coordinator Heather Dublinske said the school system has 40,000 tests on hand.
“In addition to onsite rapid testing, MCPS has advertised for 10 additional contact tracers” to help schools carry out the job of tracking suspected COVID-19 cases, Dublinske said.
Starting next week, 50+ @mcps schools will start. CIAN Diagnostics will be carrying out the testing with 24-36 hour turnarounds.
— Kate Ryan (@KateRyanWTOP) September 9, 2021
MCPS Chief of Finance and Operations Eugenia Dawson said the school system has contracted CIAN Diagnostics, a medical laboratory based out of Frederick County, Maryland, to provide “individual asymptomatic COVID testing” for students from pre-K through sixth grade. Families can opt in to allow those tests.
School board member Rebecca Smondrowski said her preference would be that parents would have to opt out of the testing, but Dawson explained that the opt-in provision is required by the state.
During the meeting, principals at elementary, high and middle schools described their efforts to carry out instruction, follow safety protocols while children are in the buildings, and then carry out the task of contact tracing.
Ashburton Elementary School Principal Gregory Mullenholz told the members of the board that while school officials were thrilled to have kids back in the building and staff members are working as a team to safeguard students and keep up with instruction, “we are being stretched thinner and thinner.”
But he also thanked parents at his school for doing all they could, by keeping sick kids home, and by notifying the school in cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
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