Montgomery Co. set to reveal new plans for shifting to virtual learning

After scrapping its previous formula on when a school switches to virtual learning due to COVID-19, Montgomery County, Maryland, schools are expected to soon reveal the new plan for making the pivot.

During a board of education meeting on Thursday, officials for the school district previewed the plan for shifting to 10 days of virtual learning if certain criteria were met.

Some of the factors include the number of students and teachers testing positive for COVID-19 over a 10-day period, the number of absences for students and teachers, and if the school doesn’t have enough substitute teachers. The number of unserved bus routes and the concerns of school officials about being able to safely and efficiently operate will also come into play with the decisions.

This plan comes more than a week after the school system scrapped its plan to shift schools to virtual learning if 5% of teachers and staff test positive. The decision was made to throw out the formula after state officials advised MCPS against using an automatic trigger or threshold to determine when all online learning should kick in.

Amid the wave of omicron cases, the school system has been receiving calls from families, calling for a range of solutions from going fully virtual districtwide for two weeks to keeping schools open for those who can come to class.

The school system has also received criticism for how it is communicating the changes to parents. Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said it will continue to work on its messaging, but she admitted during the pandemic that it has been hard to keep guidance up to speed with the quickly arriving virus variants.

“As you’ve seen, omicron is very different from delta, which we experienced in the opening of schools,” McKnight said.

After the decision is made to go completely virtual at a school, the process of making the move would take no more than two business days, officials said. Also, for students who need it, meal kits would be provided and equity hubs will be set up for students who may not have the same capabilities as other students while at home.

During the meeting, a plan was also announced to provide a virtual option for students who are forced to stay home due to COVID-19, exposure or concerns. For elementary school students, there would not be a live option, instead online materials would be made available on the school district’s Canvas website, along with on-demand video screencasts. There would also be no assignments, homework, grading for students that use it. The school system said the goal is to launch the virtual option on Jan. 18.

For middle and high school students quarantined, their virtual option could include a live Zoom broadcast. The option to hold a Zoom class would be up to the teacher, based on what students are learning. If a class is not livestreamed, teachers can choose to meet with students virtually during a non-instruction period of the day.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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