‘All hands on deck’: Head of Montgomery Co. Schools discusses omicron challenges

The head of Montgomery County Public Schools spoke to the public Wednesday for the first time since a recent change to a policy on switching to virtual learning amid COVID-19 outbreaks.

Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the modification to the rule, which previously had required schools with 5% of students and staff testing positive to temporarily revert to remote learning, was “absolutely necessary.”

Eleven schools made the transition before state officials advised against that policy, and it was changed. From now on, a pivot to virtual learning will be considered case-by-case based on multiple factors.

McKnight spoke during an online forum billed as a community conversation about school operations, but the public’s involvement was limited to written questions submitted live or in advance.

The Maryland school district is dealing with serious shortages of teachers and bus drivers.

“We’re making constant adjustments and doing everything that we can to mitigate the impacts of these operational challenges. It’s an all hands on deck effort, to be honest,” said McKnight.

“We’re asking buses to maximize the number of runs that they’re doing. We’re deploying central office staff to schools, and asking staff to cover classes on top of their traditional workload.”

McKnight said she tested positive for COVID-19 last week, but her mild symptoms allowed her to keep working.

Another participant in the forum, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, tested positive for COVID-19 on New Year’s Day and said he’s having a harder time with it.

“I’m vaccinated and boosted, I’m in a house with people who are vaccinated and boosted, (but) all three of us got COVID,” Elrich said. “I’m in day 12, so for people who say, ‘five days and you’re fine, just go about your business,’ I’m 12 days and I’m not fine.”

During Wednesday’s event, education officials announced that 190,000 rapid COVID test kits — enough to cover every student and staff member in the school system — have now been delivered to schools.

KN95 masks also are being distributed to students. So far, bundles of 10 masks per student have been sent to all middle and high schools. At least half of elementary schools are expected to receive masks by Friday, and the rest will get theirs early next week.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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