Montgomery Co. Public Schools dumps formula for shifting to virtual classes

Montgomery County Public Schools said it is dumping a formula related to temporarily shifting schools to virtual learning if 5% of students and staff test positive for COVID-19.

Instead, the Maryland school system said it will determine whether schools should transition to virtual learning amid a surge in coronavirus cases on a case-by-case basis.

The change comes after nearly a dozen schools temporarily shifted to virtual learning earlier this week.

In a letter Friday to parents and other members of the school community, interim MCPS Superintendent Monifa McKnight and acting Health Officer James Bridgers said state officials advised against using an automatic trigger or threshold to determine a shift to virtual learning.

The 11 county schools that have already shifted to virtual classes will receive more information by Sunday afternoon regarding next steps, the letter said. Originally, they were set to remain in virtual mode until Jan. 18.

The color-coded, three-tiered system rolled out this week led to some confusion. On Tuesday, 11 schools were listed in the “red zone” — meaning more than 5% of students, teachers and staff had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

By Wednesday, more than 120 of schools system’s 209 schools were reporting COVID-19 rates of greater than 5%.


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The threshold to shift to virtual relied on parents to report COVID-19 test results and led to some concerns parents would undercount results to deter school buildings from closing entirely.

The letter Friday said the school-by-school approach brings MCPS “into closer alignment with how large school systems across the county are keeping schools safe amidst similar COVID-related challenges.”

Going forward, the school system said it would consider a number of factors before shifting to virtual classes, including the number of positive COVID-19 cases; the number of students and staff in quarantine; the number of staff absent for COVID-related reasons; and the level of spread of the virus in the school.

The school system has distributed KN95 masks to all teachers and staff and plan to also hand out those higher-quality masks to students, as well. In addition, by early next week, the school system said it will begin sending at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits to all students and staff.

“These easy-to-use tests will reveal the prevalence of the virus in each school community,” the letter stated. “They will quickly identify positive cases, allow COVID-19 positive individuals to isolate and further reduce the spread of the virus in schools and offices.

Parents will be asked to submit test results — both positive and negative — online.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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