Montgomery Co. schools ‘working around the clock’ to maintain in-person instruction

There’s no interest in migrating to virtual instruction unless absolutely necessary for public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, according to the system’s interim superintendent.

“I called this press conference today to reiterate my intention to do everything in my power to keep our school system open for our students,” said Dr. Monifa McKnight, the school system’s interim superintendent, during a news briefing Monday.

She added that the system’s staff “has worked incredibly hard this year to welcome students back to school,” adding that “We absolutely know that face-to-face, on-premises learning is how students learn best. That reality guided our pledge to fully reopen at the beginning of the school year, and it’s why we’re working around the clock to uphold that commitment.”

She cited support from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Council President Gabe Albornoz and Council member Craig Rice, who chairs the county’s Education and Culture committee, to keep schools open.

With that in mind, McKnight outlined new criteria going into effect in January that will be used when discussing whether a given school should move to virtual instruction.

The county is using the second classification of the definition of “school-wide outbreak” definition set forth by the state’s Department of Health:

  • If 5% or more of unrelated students, teachers and staff at a given school test positive in a 14-day period,
  • With a minimum of 10 unrelated individuals testing positive during that time frame.

The school system will then consult with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services regarding whether a particular school should be closed for 14 days, according to McKnight. Students would transition to virtual learning for that period.

Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s deputy health officer, said the 5% metric is not a hard-and-fast rule.

“It is school-by-school [based], and for those specific entities where they are set forth by the criteria,” Bridgers said.

Bridgers said that it the county referencing the COVID-19 data provided by Johns Hopkins University, as the state’s reporting on cases, deaths and testing continues to be affected by a cyberattack earlier this month.

Bridgers also said the county is working with its labs to determine how many cases are coming from the omicron variant.

“We know it is highly transmissible and its virulence has yet to be determined as far as how it impacts individuals,” Bridgers said. “These are some of the data challenges and assessments that we’re doing with the available data that we have.”

McKnight asked students and parents who are returning from winter travel to get a test before returning to school.

She mentioned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all travelers get a COVID test three to five days after arrival. Unvaccinated travelers should quarantine for seven days after traveling.

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

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