Category Archives: MCPS

Elrich and Gayles Comment on MCPS Reopening

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of MCEA’s resolution expressing no confidence in MCPS’s reopening plan, County Executive Marc Elrich and county health officer Travis Gayles were asked by the press today whether they agreed with MCEA or MCPS. Following is a transcription of their comments.

Question from Tom Fitzgerald, Fox 5 DC:

Question about schools. A lot of us got a news release yesterday from Montgomery County Education Association which says in part that they were passing a lack of confidence resolution. Quote: “The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented, requiring more resources, more people, more space and more time and not negatively impacting students’ learning experience.” This is for Dr. Gayles and the county executive. Understanding what we just said about not wanting to open things up to have things rebound, I guess the simple question is are they right? Is the plan that’s been presented in a position to not be successfully implemented?

County health officer Travis Gayles:

I can speak from a health perspective. I’m not privy to those conversations between the union and MCPS and so forth. What I can say is this: is that the guidance that we have provided continues to be the same and is consistent with the metrics and measures that we put out in the fall using the state guidelines as well as the CDC guidelines in terms of metrics and markers where we thought it would be safe to come back related to test positivity and community transmission rate as evidenced by case rates.

And the numbers that we have are moving in that direction, which is favorable. What’s also different now than before, which again I continue to emphasize, is that we are seeing teachers and education staff get vaccinated and have access to that. I do think it is important for them to be able to have access to at least one shot before going back into the classroom. I know some may say that’s controversial given some of the CDC guidance but I do think we should continue to ensure that they have access to that as an added layer of protection when they go into the classroom.

Based upon… Dr. Stoddard and I, we meet regularly with our colleagues at MCPS, and based upon the tremendous amount of work that they have put into planning and coming up with different provisions and safety measures to put into the classrooms to mitigate transmission, we feel that they have done their due diligence in that and continue to refine. Though that said, I think if anyone should be concerned, going back into work for person-to-person, but we do feel that they have put a lot of effort in terms of coming up with different contingency plans and safety measures to mitigate transmission as much as possible. And we will certainly continue to… again, we don’t make those decisions, so again, for everybody at home, the health department does not make the decisions whether or not schools open, but we will continue to again monitor our guidance that we have provided to them based upon the surveillance information we have at hand.

County Executive Marc Elrich:

I haven’t read everything the school system’s proposed. I understand concerns about whether ventilation issues and other things have been adequately addressed, or how many people are going to be in a classroom because… as a former teacher, if I had the regular sized class in a regular sized classroom, I would never achieve the separation that people want. So I would want to look at how they are gonna deal with the number of kids who are brought back into classrooms.

And I think the big thing that gets lost in all of this is we talk about Montgomery County as if Montgomery County were all the same. And the truth is, and this is one reason why we’ve been focused on equity issues, there are parts of the county that do really, really well. I mean, our positivity and cases per hundred thousand is the total for the entire county – they are not evenly distributed across the county. You can look at zip codes, and we’ve got zip code maps, and you’ll see far more cases and far more apparent transmission per hundred thousand and you’ll see other zip codes where you don’t see many cases and you have, and you extrapolate much lower likelihood of transmission. So I understand that people would look at different neighborhoods and have different concerns about where you were teaching and what’s the environment and what’s the positivity rather than just looking at countywide numbers. I think there is something to be said for thinking about that.


MCPS Responds to MCEA No Confidence Resolution

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Board of Education and Superintendent Jack Smith just released a statement responding to MCEA’s resolution of no confidence in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement is reprinted below.


Statement from the Board of Education and Superintendent Jack R. Smith on The MCEA Resolution on MCPS’ Return-to-School Plan

February 17, 2021
Statement from the Board of Education:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been and continues to be a significant challenge for our public education system. As a system, we have worked collectively to meet the moment by being resilient and focused on serving our students. Given the challenges we have faced, and the challenges ahead of us, the Montgomery County Board of Education (Board) is deeply disappointed in the Montgomery County Education Association’s (MCEA) recent actions regarding school reopening. During the last 11 months, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) administration has spent hundreds of hours engaging with MCEA leadership and reached tentative agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding on February 12. The Board believes in collaboration with all stakeholders, including our teachers’ union. However, collaboration does not supplant the singular responsibility and authority of the Board to make decisions about MCPS. The Board always welcomes feedback to enhance and improve our recovery plan, but we must work together constructively to ensure the best outcomes for all students, particularly during this pandemic.

The pandemic has strained us individually and as a community. There is no perfect plan and no decision without consequences. We will continue to review and adjust our strategies to fulfill our core mission of ensuring that every student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social-emotional skills to be successful in college and career.”

Statement from Superintendent Jack R. Smith:

“Montgomery County Public Schools has developed a comprehensive recovery plan that prioritizes the safety of students and staff and the continued academic growth of all students. While we understand that staff may have some questions and concerns, these plans were developed with input from a diverse set of MCPS stakeholders and are reflective of the district’s commitment to fostering a partnership that benefits our students, staff and community.

I am deeply perplexed by the vote of no confidence from the teachers’ union, coming on the same day we released the joint Memorandum of Understanding. Our recovery plan and discussions with the association followed months of tremendous collaboration and interaction in development of this work. MCPS staff benchmarked with school districts across the state and nation for best practices and applied important guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our state and local health officials. Physical distancing, face coverings, hand-washing, COVID-19 case tracking, testing and personal attestation will all be a part of the experience once students return to ensure safety for all.

We have worked diligently to ensure thorough mitigation protocols, personal protective equipment (PPE) and professional development are in place for staff to make in-person learning as safe as possible. We are focused on providing an equitable and high-quality instructional experience for all students, whether virtual or in-person. Many students and families are eagerly awaiting this return and school leaders and support professionals are committed to this.

We look forward to welcoming the first group of students back to our buildings on March 1 and March 15, and know that our staff is dedicated to meeting the needs of all our students. “


MCEA Votes No Confidence in MCPS Reopening Plan

By Adam Pagnucco.

Minutes ago, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) released a statement that their worksite representatives had passed a resolution expressing “a lack of confidence” in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement and the text of the resolution appear below.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Contact on behalf of Montgomery County Education Association:
Kiwana Hall, Communications Director

Montgomery County Education Association Statement on Lack of Confidence Resolution

In response to the inadequacy of the reopening plan approved by the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education on February 9th, elected worksite representatives of the Montgomery County Education Association have overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating a lack of confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning, and Schools.

MCEA’s highest level decision-making body, the Representative Assembly, held an emergency meeting on February 15th to discuss the resolution. Over one thousand members and representatives attended. The full resolution is available here.

The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented – requiring more resources, more people, and more space than is available – without negatively impacting students’ learning experience.

MCEA members demand that MCPS adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings, implement a contact tracing and testing program, and provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.

The system must also develop a building reopening plan for the adequate staffing of all instructional models, particularly those that directly serve Black and Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishing access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction.

MCEA cannot support the current plan, which will only increase inequity in Montgomery County schools. MCEA has requested a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the MCPS reopening plan. MCEA urges the Board of Education to take the time to meet with educators.


The text of MCEA’s resolution appears below.


WHEREAS the safety and health of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) employees and students is a priority in school system operations, and

WHEREAS the global pandemic of COVID-19 has impacted Montgomery County, Maryland with more than 61,000 cases and more than 1,350 deaths, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires human and capital resources that significantly exceed those of a pre-COVID era, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires a sustainable instructional model, which allows for all students to receive a free and appropriate education, and

WHEREAS the MCPS Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools is responsible for the development of a coherent and effective plan for instruction, and

WHEREAS the plan approved by the MCPS Board of Education on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, cannot be implemented with existing resources, does not adequately protect the health and safety of employees and students, and diverts resources from Black and Brown children, and children impacted by poverty, the majority of whose families have indicated through the MCPS survey a preference for remaining in distance learning.

Therefore be it RESOLVED, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has no confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools.

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall provide the opportunity to all employees to be fully vaccinated prior to a return to school, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall develop and implement a coherent contact tracing and weekly diagnostic testing program in line with CDC guidelines prior to any return to worksites, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall transparently and robustly communicate to employees, families, and community information related to COVID-19 contraction and transmission at the classroom and worksite level, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall adequately staff all instructional models, particularly those which directly serve Black and, Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishment of access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to all CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings which includes but is not limited to mitigation measures, and phased-in reopening of schools based on the zone metrics (Blue, Yellow, Orange, Red), and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the ventilation in worksites and environmental air quality of work sites. If any worksite does not have safe ventilation in all rooms, MCPS will install HEPA and other filters to block the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, MCPS shall release all test results for each worksite, office, and classroom to all stakeholders before requiring unit members to have to return to any worksites.


State to Counties: Vaccinate Private School Staff or Else

By Adam Pagnucco.

Phase 1B of the state’s COVID vaccination schedule includes “education staff, including K-12 teachers, support staff and daycare providers.” Some counties are now starting vaccinations of school staff. The state’s Department of Health has just issued a warning to all county health officers and other vaccine providers that they must include private school staff in their vaccination programs or risk having their vaccines reallocated to other vaccine providers who comply. The state’s warning follows Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s announcement that his county is working with Johns Hopkins Medicine to vaccinate MCPS employees, a statement that makes no mention of private school staff.

The memorandum from Acting Secretary of Health Dennis R. Schrader to vaccine providers is reprinted below.


To: All Local Health Officers and all COVID-19 Vaccine Providers

From: Dennis R. Schrader, Acting Health Secretary
Dr. Jinlene Chan, Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services

Cc: Dr. Karen Salmon, Ph.D., State Superintendent of Schools
Nonpublic Schools

Subject: Phase 1B: Educators – Vaccination of Nonpublic School Faculty and Staff

Date: January 30, 2021

It is the health policy of the State of Maryland that nonpublic schools may not be excluded from any COVID-19 vaccine provider who is administering COVID-19 vaccine to educators.

Any COVID-19 vaccine provider who refuses the vaccination of nonpublic school staff while administering vaccines to public school system employees will have future vaccine allocations reduced or reallocated to providers that comply with the MDH Vaccination Matters Order and COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Bulletins.

Please see the attached Week 8 bulletin, which states that “local health departments should set aside at least 100 doses per week from their overall location for Phase 1B educators in their jurisdiction. This allocation should be set aside until jurisdictions have vaccinated all of their educators.”

Additionally, please see Section 8, Education: page 9 of the bulletin, “Educational facilities include: licensed childcare facilities; K-12: both public school systems and nonpublic schools; and higher educational institutions.”


Superintendent Jack Smith Announces Retirement from MCPS

By Adam Pagnucco.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith has announced his retirement. Smith, who once worked in the State Department of Education and is a former superintendent in Calvert County, was hired by MCPS in 2016 and had his contract renewed last year. Smith’s announcement is reprinted below.

Superintendent Jack R. Smith Announces Retirement

Dear Colleagues,

I write to you with very mixed emotions today. After much consideration, I have shared with the Board of Education that I will be retiring as superintendent of schools this spring. I have tentatively set my retirement date as June 1, 2021.

As I have shared with some of you, my two-year old grandson had significant open heart surgery in May 2019 to reconstruct his malformed heart. While the surgery was successful, my wife, Gayle, relocated to Maine to help my daughter and son-in-law care for him. Her stay in Maine to support our grandson was extended with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given his health needs, our family’s circumstances are not going to change for at least the next few years. I need to join Gayle in Maine as I find I can no longer tolerate living most of the time separately.

I have loved my time in Montgomery County Public Schools and have no desire to leave. The staff in the school system is among the most talented and dedicated in this country. The work we have done together around the equity accountability framework, the allocation of resources, student well-being, upgrades to current technology, our expansion of pre-K and language programs are among a host of system improvements that I am so happy to have been involved with.

I will greatly miss being a part of this organization. The 17 school board members I have worked with here have been committed, dedicated professionals, and they consistently have made decisions with the best interest of students in mind, as well as a very real desire to maintain the excellence of the system, while increasing the access and opportunity to provide a truly equitable experience for every child we serve.

I’ve truly been fortunate to work with these school board members, the staff, our elected officials and the community in Montgomery County.

I am confident that MCPS will continue to do great work on behalf of our 160,000 students—it always has. I am also confident that working together, we can and will implement a comprehensive recovery of education plan that will get students back in school buildings and address the significant learning loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a wonderful community, a strong public school system and a great place to live. I wish only the very best for Montgomery County Public Schools going forward.

Dr. Jack R. Smith


The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The year 2020 was hugely eventful for the entire world and MoCo was no exception. In our county, 2020 saw a public health crisis, a resulting economic crash and huge challenges to our quality of life. In political terms, it also saw unusually contentious elections for school board and circuit court judge, four historic ballot questions and numerous fights inside county government. We wrote about it all on Seventh State. Here are the top twenty posts measured by page views from the people who count the most – YOU, our readers.

  1. Miscreants Run Wild at Elrich Press Conference

This was a poorly organized public event gone wrong, culminating with an unmasked protestor getting within spitting distance of the county executive. For those who question the need for the executive to have a security detail, this is Exhibit A for why it can be necessary.

  1. Elrich Vetoes WMATA Property Tax Bill

County Executive Marc Elrich’s first veto, this one targeting a council-passed bill giving Metro station developers 15-year property tax breaks, set off a fight on corporate welfare that has not ended by a long shot. That will prove especially true if a proposal by the planning staff to grant tax abatements to other properties near Metro stations advances.

  1. The Squeaky Wheel and Inequities Hiding in Plain Sight

MoCo PTA Vice-President Laura Stewart wrote this guest blog on inequities in MCPS’s capital budget. It’s a must-read for everyone who cares about school construction.

  1. Will MCPS Reopen?

In early November, MCPS told the public that it was planning a phased-in reopening of schools for some in-person instruction. But the winter surge of COVID quickly overtook that plan and cast the timing of reopening in doubt. The issue is still unsettled.

  1. MCEA: MCPS Reopening Plan “Wholly Inadequate” to Protect Students and Staff

Back in the summer, MCPS’s original reopening plan was drenched in controversy, ultimately resulting in a pitched battle with the county teachers’ union (MCEA). MCPS wound up going with virtual learning for the fall, like most other large school systems in the region, but the mechanics and safety of reopening are still subjects of debate.

  1. What Happened to White Flint?

Jobs, jobs, JOBS. According to White Flint developers, MoCo’s slow rate of job growth was one reason that they could not get financing to proceed on the county’s preeminent development plan. The chart below says it all. And when the COVID pandemic finally ends, county leaders must dedicate themselves to creating jobs, Jobs, JOBS or MoCo’s stagnation will continue.

  1. Baltimore City’s Election Has a Problem

Back in June, incumbent Baltimore City Council Member Zeke Cohen, who had a big lead in money and endorsements over his challenger, appeared on election night to be getting just 2% of the vote. That was the first sign of a primary gone wrong, which led to many misgivings about the state’s processes with mail ballots and the performance of its long-time election administrator Linda Lamone.

  1. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against

2020 was a year of surprises, and one of the bigger surprises was the emergence from political retirement of former County Executive Ike Leggett. Question B (Robin Ficker’s latest anti-tax charter amendment) and Question D (nine council districts) disturbed Leggett enough that he started a ballot issue committee to defeat them. This post was Leggett’s guest column on why they were bad ideas and it got a big reaction from our readers.

  1. Teachers Respond to Lynne Harris

After school board candidate Lynne Harris blamed MCEA for allegedly resisting school reopening (a post that also appears on our top 20 list), a group of rank-and-file teachers pushed back in this guest post. It achieved wide readership that was probably concentrated among teachers as the general election approached.

  1. Free-For-All

In non-COVID news, 2020 was the year that the county’s police department (along with departments around the country) became a political football. This post describes how the executive, the county council and Annapolis all jumped into the issue of policing with little coordination. Lost in the debate was the central fact that crime in MoCo is at its lowest level in decades. Policing will continue to be a hot topic in 2021.

Tomorrow we will list the top ten Seventh State posts for the year!


Top Seventh State Stories, December 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in December ranked by page views.

1. What Happened to White Flint?
2. The Day of Reckoning is Near
3. Jawando Calls for a Tax Hike
4. Come on Now
5. Who’s the Boss?
6. MCEA to School Board: Reopening Should be Safe
7. Trump vs Hogan: Votes by MoCo Town
8. Council Overrides Veto, Attacks Elrich, Cuts Revenue for School Buildings
9 (tie). Minority Members of the U.S. House
9 (tie). Corporate MoCo Council Adopts Supply-Side Economics

The top three stories fit together and have meaning for the new year and beyond. The Day of Reckoning is Near summarizes the county’s dire fiscal picture as it heads into a challenging FY22 budget discussion in the spring. Jawando Calls for a Tax Hike kicks off an inevitable dialogue about taxes, one which will only get hotter before the executive makes his budget recommendation on March 15. And What Happened to White Flint? – December’s runaway winner – lays out the story of how the county’s premier development plan has been held back by our slow rate of job growth. Budget headaches, taxes and economic problems are about to collide.

Welcome to 2021, folks!


MCEA to School Board: Reopening Should be Safe

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter written to the school board today, Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) President Chris Lloyd called for a number of measures to ensure that any reopening of schools would be as safe as possible.  Among those measures are the installation of effective air handling systems in every classroom, a health and safety committee at every school, strict social distancing, personal protective equipment and a choice of work location for educators.

Lloyd’s letter is reprinted below.


December 11, 2020

Sent Via Email

Office of the Board of Education
Montgomery County Public Schools
Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear President Wolff and Members of the Board of Education,

I write to you today on behalf of the Montgomery County Education Association in relation to the Tuesday, December 15, 2020 Board of Education meeting, and the discussion/action around the return to physical workspaces.

We affirm the value of in-person learning, in support of the needs of our young scholars and their academic and social-emotional well-being. We call upon you to demand that our state and county leaders make the required investments in physical workspaces and institute policies to curb the significant community spread of this virus.

All of us need to be advocating for policies and funding needed for the safe schools our communities deserve. There is a fierce urgency in this work, so that we can return to schools as soon as possible. It is incumbent on policy makers to prioritize public education and the safety of adults and children in our care, not through proclamation, but through investment and policies.

We want to return to school safely and soon, and we can do this by stopping the rampant community spread, and by simultaneously providing proper health and safety protocols at the worksite. Acting immediately on these two items will allow our schools to thrive.

We have the knowledge and understanding of how to stop community spread. We’ve seen countries such as Australia institute polices that not only bent the curve of transmission but caused a precipitous and effective drop in cases and deaths, which allowed for safety in a community and its schools. Stopping the rampant community spread in our community is a matter of public policy and will, and it can be done if we decide to do so.

We have the knowledge, understanding and the resources to make workplaces safe. The Silver Diner in Rockville safely uses UV light in its air handling to eradicate the virus, and transmission there is significantly lower than average. Other worksites such as grocery stores have installed plexiglass barriers, used face masks and face shields, while simultaneously and significantly increasing the air exchange rate and air filtration in their buildings, aggressively moving air up and out of the building. These are examples of ways critical and essential businesses are seeking to eradicate the virus in their buildings. For one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, with $184 million in CARES Act funding, there is an obligation to act in this way in our public buildings.

We believe schools are essential, and therefore deserve essential funding to make the buildings and the inhabitants safe. Instituting a paycheck protection program for county businesses will allow us to stop the spread, and to open up the most important buildings for our children – our schools. By prioritizing schools and protecting our most vulnerable workers, we can both control the virus, keep our economy strong, and invite students back into buildings.

We call on the immediate funding and installation of effective air handling systems in each classroom, that provide for necessary air transfer, filtration and virus eradication.

We call for a laser focus on instruction, that educators can teach either online or in buildings, so that we can meet the needs of young scholars in our care and focus our efforts either in-person or online.

We call for Health and Safety Committees at each school, to look after the physical and emotional security of our students.

We call for every inhabited space in our schools to have the safety we’ve come to know and expect, and just like other emergencies, for educators to have the ability to remove themselves and their students from life-threatening situations.

We call for strict social distancing measures and needed PPE so that we can protect our children, families and staff.

We call for the choice of work location for educators, either remote or in-person, so that we can meet the needs of our teachers, and all of the children in their care.

All of this is possible with action now, so that we can bend the pandemic curve and have our buildings safe for occupancy. It will require funding and policies that make clear the top priority of this community is its schools and other people’s children. Fierce urgency and moral courage demands nothing less.

We alone cannot make our schools safe. We alone cannot stop the rampant spread of the virus. But we can lead the efforts to make this happen. It took weeks, and not months, for other countries with strict policies to bring the spread of the virus under control. It took investment by a community to make workplaces safe. We should do the same, demand the same, and then return to school safely and soon after executing such policies and infrastructure investments.


Christopher Lloyd, NBCT

President, MCEA


Top Seventh State Stories, November 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in November ranked by page views.

1. Will MCPS Reopen?
2. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions
3. MCPS Reopening Looks More Unlikely
4. Who Has the Edge in the At-Large School Board Race?
5. Elrich Extends Response Deadline for Public Information Act Requests
6. Council Drops the Other Purple Penny
7. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
8. Does Downcounty Pick the At-Large Council Members?
9. Scandal: County Employees Got COVID Pay They Were Not Entitled to Get
10. Winners and Losers of the Ballot Question War

Three of these stories were leftovers from the election and dominated the first week. Of the rest, two of the top three relate to whether and how MCPS will reopen – a huge issue that has yet to be resolved. Parents may disagree on exactly what MCPS should do, but all of us (I’m one of them!) are intensely interested in the outcome.


MCPS Reopening Looks More Unlikely (Updated)

By Adam Pagnucco.

One week ago, I asked “Will MCPS Reopen?” At that time, a number of factors poured cold water on MCPS’s plan to resume in-person instruction in January, including rising COVID case rates, potential costs with few options to pay for them and the experience of other districts in reopening and then promptly shutting down again. Events since then have made it even more unlikely that MCPS will reopen on schedule.

Consider the following.

1. In my post a week ago, I noted that schools in Allegany, Dorchester, Harford and Somerset counties all reopened and then closed again due to COVID spikes. Since then, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County and Fairfax County have paused, suspended or delayed reopening and New York City has shut down its schools. Most ominously, Howard County’s school board voted against a reopening plan submitted by their superintendent and opted to keep schools virtual through at least April. This no doubt caught the attention of MCPS management. Having a school board publicly reject a crucial policy decision is a nightmare scenario for any superintendent and one that MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith will be keen to avoid.

2. County health officer Travis Gayles is urging private schools to use virtual learning only. Gayles tried to shut down private schools last summer but was stopped by the state. Nevertheless, he continues to believe that in-person learning is unsafe in the context of rising case rates, a message he has no doubt shared with MCPS.

3. Governor Larry Hogan imposed a set of new restrictions on bars, restaurants, retailers, gyms and religious institutions last week as COVID cases surged across the state. County Executive Marc Elrich plans to impose more restrictions too. The Smithsonian has closed the National Zoo and all of its museums in response to the surge. In his bluntest remarks to date, Hogan told Marylanders, “Just wear the damn mask.”

4. Looming over all of this is an unprecedented skyrocketing of COVID case rates. MCPS’s COVID dashboard uses a 14-day average case rate. A week ago, the rate was 19.5 cases per 100,000 residents. As of yesterday, the rate was 26.1, far above the level of 15.0 at which any students would be considered for in-person learning. The county’s 7-day average case rate jumped from 22.4 to 29.7 over the same period. Both the 7-day and 14-day averages are above previous peaks seen in May, when schools were shut down and economic restrictions were more severe.

MCPS’s COVID dashboard as it appeared yesterday.

5. Yesterday, the Post summarized the consensus of health officials in the region this way: “Public health experts and hospital administrators say the abrupt rise in new cases is unlikely to abate in the next few weeks and could foreshadow a more difficult December, followed by an even rougher January and a darker February.” In other words, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Despite all of this, MCPS is proceeding with a survey of parents asking whether they prefer hybrid (in-person and virtual) or virtual-only learning in the second semester. The survey says in bold that the system “will begin a phased-in return to in-person instruction on January 12, 2021.” Notice use of the word “will.” As of a week ago, 56% of responding parents preferred the hybrid option.

If schools were to reopen today, no students would be eligible for in-person learning according to MCPS’s own health metrics and the public health community believes that case rates have not yet peaked. However, MCPS is still telling parents that schools “will” resume in-person learning in January. At this point, MCPS management is on a collision course with some parents who want in-person instruction but likely won’t get it any time soon as well as with its own employees, many of whom fear for their health if called back to MCPS buildings.

It’s a very tough situation. And the longer MCPS management waits to adjust its course, the tougher it’s going to get.

Update: MCPS Chief of Engagement, Innovation and Operations Derek Turner points out that MCPS’s Family Guide to Help Determine Learning Preferences states the following:

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will offer both virtual and in-person learning experiences as health metrics allow. MCPS will begin a phased-in return to in-person instruction beginning January 12, 2021, with a focus on specific special education programs and certain Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs. If health metrics continue to be met, larger groups of students will begin phasing in on February 1, 2021.

Turner said, “By not including this important context, and in fact emphasizing the word ‘will’, readers may believe that MCPS is pushing forward with no concern for the health and safety of students and staff, which is far from the truth. I am asking that you update your piece to reflect the important context regarding health metric being met before a return to in-person can occur.”