After over thousands of students in Montgomery County, Maryland, were sent home to quarantine over coronavirus concerns, the system is introducing new plans to keep more students in the classroom.
“We always planned that we would come back and reevaluate after a couple of weeks, knowing that there would be things that we would have anticipated and things that we would not have anticipated about this pandemic and what it was like to truly operationalize it with all of our students back into all of our school in the way that we opened this year,” said Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight.
Of the thousands of students that were sent home because they displayed COVID-19 symptoms or were in contact with someone that displayed symptoms, most were able to come back a short time later after a negative test.
McKnight told WTOP that the new rapid tests that will deployed at all schools will eliminate this uncertainty.
“It’s the one thing that can help us verify — if a student who has symptoms or is presenting symptoms — because they are, quite frankly, impacted by COVID; or is it something else,” McKnight said. “And that will, I am sure, decrease the quarantine number specifically because you can just be specific about what’s going on with an individual student, which then impacts all the other students who are around them.”
Parents must opt in their children for testing, although if the student is displaying symptoms, they can give verbal permission.
Currently some 30% of pre-K through sixth grade have signed up, but recently the school system expanded the program to all students and are aiming for 100% participation.
The school system will launch the campaign aimed to sign up more students for the testing program, which also includes randomized testing of asymptomatic students.
McKnight said another priority under their new plan is to hire a school health officer that will work with the county and state health departments.
McKnight said the health officer will, “assess our MCPS COVID-19 data and determine — how we may need to pivot and communicate that to all of our stakeholders, make recommendations and provide guidance around prevention strategies; and also make recommendations around quarantines and contact tracing.”
McKnight said they hope to fill the role in the coming weeks.
Along with a new health officer, the school system will form a COVID-19 operations advisory committee. The committee will comprised staff, parents and other stakeholders, who will give recommendations on how the school system should operate during the pandemic.
“I also want to highlight the fact that I’ve heard from our parents, who oftentimes have lots of medical background and expertise themselves. We want to invite them into being a part of this advisory group, so that they can understand all of the unique components that we have to navigate as a school system.”
The school system plans to create an online COVID-19 dashboard that shows data on positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students. It will provide general information around quarantining protocols and how many students are currently quarantining within the school system.
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