Tag Archives: MCPS

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.

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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.”

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Will MCPS Reopen?

By Adam Pagnucco.

MCPS’s new plan to phase in a return to in-person learning in January is the talk of parents across MoCo. The school district is currently surveying parents on their preferences for in-person or virtual instruction. But in recent weeks, the coronavirus has surged across the county, prompting the county government to re-impose restrictions on businesses and social gatherings.

With COVID-19 transmission approaching its highest levels since the spring, will MCPS actually reopen?

To answer that question, let’s consult MCPS’s own health metrics. For the purpose of determining which students will return and when, MCPS has broken them up into four groups in order of in-person instructional need.

Student special populations, including special education students and other students with special needs
Group 1: Kindergarten; grades 1, 6 and 9; career and technical education (CTE) students
Group 2: Pre-kindergarten and grades 2, 3, 7 and 10
Group 3: Grades 4, 5, 8, 11 and 12

The phase-in timing for each of these groups depends on average new COVID-19 case rates. The higher the case rates, the slower the phase-in of return. At an average rate of 15 or more new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period, all groups would be taught virtually. For rates between 10 and 15, “minimal in-person” learning would be considered for special population students but would be virtual for all other groups. For rates between 5 and 10, limited in-person learning would be provided for special population students, minimal in-person learning would be considered for group 1 and other students would receive virtual learning.

So what does this mean given MoCo’s case rates? First, according to MCPS’s dashboard, the 14-day average case rate has never been below 5 since the virus came to MoCo in March. That means according to MCPS’s metrics, most students would never have been eligible for in-person learning since the pandemic began. For the period of May through mid-June and beginning in the second week of November, no students at all would have been in virtual learning. The school system’s dashboard, along with other metrics maintained by the county and state, now shows COVID case rates spiking to the highest levels seen in months. MCPS’s average 14-day case rate of 19.5 on November 15 is the highest rate since June 6. Under such conditions, MCPS’s metrics would keep all students in virtual learning.

Another issue is that MCPS’s reopening plan contains substantial costs, including health screenings, capacity limits (including on buses), personal protective equipment, training, air quality mitigation and recruitment. MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith has said the district will “absolutely have to hire more people” to implement a hybrid model combining virtual and in-person learning. MCPS has not released a reopening cost estimate as of this writing, but it’s conceivable that it could go into the tens of millions of dollars. If MCPS needs assistance from the county, it could be out of luck given that the county’s federal grant money is almost all spent or spoken for and the county’s emergency pay program has blown an 8-digit hole in its budget.

Finally, Maryland school districts that have reopened have faced tough going. Carroll County faced a shortage of hundreds of teachers when it reopened at the end of September. Allegany, Dorchester, Harford and Somerset counties all reopened and then later closed due to COVID spikes. Last week, Maryland Matters reported, “About half of local school districts reversed plans to return to in-person learning.” This is all a dire warning to any school district thinking of reopening in the current conditions of COVID spread.

All of the above together suggests that MCPS will proceed with reopening only if MoCo sees a miracle reduction in COVID cases or if MCPS liberalizes its health metrics. Neither seems likely as the pandemic continues.

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Reopening Plans – MCPS is Behind

Guest column by Lynne Harris, Candidate for Montgomery County Board of Education At-Large.

Reopening schools – safely – is critical. As an MCPS teacher, parent, a nurse and a public health expert, I have been closely following public health guidance, evolving science around COVID, and the work of school systems all around the world that have opened during the pandemic. I’m disappointed that MCPS lags so far behind almost every school district in Maryland. Twenty of our state’s 24 school districts have begun bringing some students back. To prevent irreversible learning and opportunity loss, we need a public health compliant, student-focused plan to start providing some level of in-person instruction to students.

It’s critically important to have a CDC-compliant plan now to bring small groups of students into our schools, periodically. Those most in need of in-person instruction include students vulnerable to learning loss, struggling students, young learners, students with special needs, and students in hands-on CTE programs like mine. That plan needs to ensure that MCPS and the County Health Department are in continuous collaboration, and have a well-thought out and well-communicated plan to move back and forth between fully virtual and hybrid instruction as Montgomery County’s COVID numbers change. Some say that’s hard, but school systems all over are doing that now.

SCHOOLS ARE ALREADY OPEN!

Planning to reopen doesn’t’ require re-inventing the wheel. We can look at how school systems around the nation and the world are educating the next generation face-to-face during a global pandemic. Six of the nation’s ten largest school systems – some with hundreds of thousands more students than MCPS – have reopened. It’s not that MCPS can’t devise a safe plan, it’s that MCPS hasn’t yet created one.

To see how this can work safely, look no further than our own schools. They’re already in use. MCPS for-profit learning pods and low-cost equity hubs are currently operating in more than 60 schools. Private schools in Montgomery County are open too – here’s an interesting piece from Education Week written by a MoCo middle school teacher teaching at one of them.

REOPENING SAFELY

Almost every school system that has reopened devised a hybrid plan, with a mix of in-person and virtual learning. Planning starts by sharing information with communities and providing a firm date for staff and families to opt in or out of in-person instruction. That data is essential for planning – once a school system knows which staff and students will participate only virtually, then it can make school-specific plans for hybrid instruction.

Most school systems have started by bringing in the most vulnerable learners and early learners (mentioned above) first. They are at highest risk for irreversible learning loss. And pragmatically, it’s easier to devise a plan for pre-K and elementary schools, where most students are together in a single classroom – than for middle and high schools where students typically change classes four to eight times daily.

In school districts where partial reopening is working:

Masks are mandatory.

Students and staff can opt for virtual only instruction.

Health screenings are routine, with firm guidelines. Some are completed online daily before students and staff enter the building. Anyone with a COVID-19 exposure must notify the school and self-quarantine. Contact-tracing is handled quickly with health officials. Anyone who feels unwell stays home.

Common spaces are marked for social distancing and equipped with supplies for hand hygiene.

Arrival and dismissal procedures minimize crowding, utilizing as many entrance/exits as feasible so students and staff enter and leave from the exit nearest their classroom.

Groups of students remain together (cohort) throughout the school day – eating lunch together, taking handwashing breaks together, going outside together.

Enhanced hygiene and cleaning protocols include restrictions on multiple use items in classrooms, socially distanced classroom arrangements, and frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces.

One day per week, usually Wednesday, is virtual for everyone, allowing for deeper cleaning of spaces mid-week.

Staff, students and families know the plan for pivoting back and forth between hybrid and virtual instruction as community COVID numbers change, and understand how they will receive information about community COVID status and school operations.

MCPS’s work with our County Health Department should yield guidelines for safe operations and allow each of our 208 schools to create its own plan for space utilization. Every one of our schools is unique – in enrollment size, building size and layout, and the presence (or not) of special programs. All of those things matter in figuring out how to safely bring some students and staff back into classrooms, and how to safely and efficiently use school space and maintain social distancing.

FACTS VS. FEAR

I hear some people talk about MCPS reopening from a place of fear. That’s understandable – we’re living through a global pandemic. We need to temper fear and rhetoric with reality, knowledge and fact. Zero risk is impossible. Wherever people gather there is always the possibility for illness to spread. Think about it: have you traveled since March? Gone to a gathering of people that you don’t live with? Gone to the grocery store? Gone to a Farmers Market? If so, were conditions tightly controlled and health protocols rigidly observed? There’s always risk.

We have to look at creating a reopening plan through the lens of our purpose as a public school system. Our purpose is to educate students and support students and families. That means we have to look at what’s best for students, and the data is clear – virtual learning is NOT best for the majority of students. Some will suffer irreversible lifetime consequences if we can’t resume some level of in-person instruction.

MCPS is behind schools and learning hubs in our district, most of the systems in our state, and many across our nation and the world. Planning for reopening requires robust collaboration – and it needs to begin now. If none of us are seeing, hearing or learning about that planning, then MCPS is falling even further behind.

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Would Question B Harm Schools?

By Adam Pagnucco.

One of the key claims made by some opponents of Question B (Robin Ficker’s latest charter amendment on taxes) is that it will harm schools by limiting growth in property tax revenues. For example, former County Council Member Bruce Adams wrote on Maryland Matters: “Ficker’s amendment would not let even a unanimous council act to preserve our quality schools and services.” Former County Executive Ike Leggett also told MCM in an interview that it could “certainly impact schools.”

Is that true?

First, let’s remember what Question B would actually do. Right now, the county charter limits annual growth in property tax receipts to the rate of inflation (with a few exceptions) unless the county council unanimously votes to go over the limit. The last time that happened was in 2016, when the council voted to increase property taxes by 8.7%. Question B would remove the ability of the council to exceed the limit, thereby imposing an absolute cap on property tax revenue growth at the rate of inflation. (Question A, a competing tax limit charter amendment authored by Council Member Andrew Friedson, would raise far more revenue than Question B over time.) Because of Question B’s limit on revenue growth, some opponents criticize it for potentially damaging many different kinds of county services, including schools.

But school funding is different from most other kinds of funding when it comes to charter limits. The reason for that lies in a fight between the counties and the state back in 2012. At that time, the counties were struggling with the budgetary effects of the Great Recession and several of them had cut local per pupil school funding below the floor established by the state. The state responded by passing SB 848, which made a number of changes to the state’s maintenance of effort law on school funding. One of them allowed counties to circumvent their charter limits to fund school budgets. (State law preempts county charters.) The exact language of this part of the bill, which is now contained in Md. Education Code Ann. § 5-104(d)(1), reads:

Notwithstanding any provision of a county charter that places a limit on that county’s property tax rate or revenues and subject to paragraph (2) of this subsection, a county governing body may set a property tax rate that is higher than the rate authorized under the county’s charter or collect more property tax revenues than the revenues authorized under the county’s charter for the sole purpose of funding the approved budget of the county board.

That means that a county can exceed its charter limit for the purpose of funding its school budget. A majority of county council votes are all that is required to raise property taxes for MCPS’s operating budget regardless of what MoCo voters put in the charter.

Five counties in Maryland have charter limits on property taxes: Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Talbot and Wicomico. Since the maintenance of effort law was changed in 2012, three of them – Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Talbot – took advantage of their new authority under state law to circumvent their charter limits and raise taxes for schools. (Talbot did it three times.) Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich proposed doing the same in his FY21 recommended budget, but the council rejected his tax hike. (It’s not a coincidence that then-budget director and current Chief Administrative Officer Rich Madaleno was one of the architects of the school funding exemption when he was in the State Senate.)

There are two ways in which Question B would indirectly affect MCPS. First, property taxes are a major source of revenue to pay off debt service, which is required to finance bonds issued for school construction. If reduced growth in property taxes impacts debt service, MCPS’s capital budget could become tighter. Property taxes also generate cash that goes into some school capital spending (like technology modernization). Second, county departments outside MCPS contribute ancillary services that benefit the schools. Examples include health and human services (school health nurses, health room technicians, childhood wellness, linkages to learning), police (crossing guards and school resource officers), libraries (research and internet resources) and recreation (sports academies). These services are not inside MCPS’s local appropriation and would be impacted by Question B.

Over time, Question B if passed would probably result in two pots of property tax money – one exclusively for the MCPS operating budget requiring a majority of council votes to increase, and another for everything else with growth capped at inflation. Smart people like Madaleno and the county’s budget analysts can figure out how to move money around to avoid the worst effects of this. Question B would still be a challenge to the county’s finances, a distortion to its budget process and an impediment to funding police, fire service, parks, libraries, road maintenance and more. That’s reason enough to vote against it. But the bottom line is that Question B would do far less to hurt MCPS than the rest of county government.

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Top Seventh State Stories, September 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

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

1. Free-For-All
2. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against
3. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening
4. Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening
5. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
6. Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety
7. Ballot Question Committee Scorecard
8. Post Editorial: Vote Against All Charter Amendments
9. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
10. Why Progressives Should Support the Friedson Amendment

Free-For-All, which called into question the county’s strategy for dealing with the police department, was the runaway leader this month. That suggests that there is considerable unease about the county’s approach to MCPD which goes far beyond the groups the county hears from regularly. School board candidate Lynne Harris’s criticism of MCEA, for which she later apologized, produced a flood of site traffic. The two posts about circuit court judge candidate Marylin Pierre were circulated by her opponents on the sitting judge slate. The rest of the posts were mostly about MoCo’s charter amendments, on which voting has already begun.

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Teachers Repond to Lynne Harris

Guest blog by Grace Lovelace, David Stein and Kerrin Torres-Meriwether.

Classroom educators in MCPS, such as ourselves, were disappointed by Board of Education candidate Lynne Harris’s comments to the Blair High School newspaper, Silver Chips. A potential Board of Education member should refrain from comments that add to a nation-wide, slanderous campaign against teachers’ unions. While we found her comments to be false and accusatory of her fellow educators and our Association being obstructionist, we appreciate Ms. Harris’s apology.

As we reflect on Ms. Harris’s comments and apology, it is important to clarify the following:

Montgomery County Board of Education members oversee a school system with over 160,000 students and a budget of more than two billion dollars. Board members must choose their public words carefully; they do not have the luxury of speaking off the cuff, even when they are tired.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) and our colleagues across the country have been the most vital voice for guaranteeing safety for staff members and students before returning to schools and worksites.

MCEA and its educators are not to blame for schools being closed, given that we do not make the decision to reopen. In fact, over the last several months, MCEA staff and members have been hard at work advocating and collaborating on the robust virtual program staff members, students, and parents deserve in addition to safe and structured reopening proposals. We have presented MCPS with innovative proposals, including requests for personal protective equipment and adequate sanitation supplies; training for staff members, students, and parents on proper COVID-19 protocols and precautions; and a district matching program for donated resources with equitable distribution to highly impacted schools. MCEA has played a constructive role in ensuring educator seats at the table, as we advocate for educators, students, and their families.

We are proud of the work we and our colleagues do, not only in schools and other worksites but in the additional hours we volunteer with our Association. While they may sometimes disagree with our positions, Board of Education members customarily demonstrate respect for our union’s work. They must inspire confidence among educators and help establish transparent communication between the school district and families. They should promote the profession of educators and amplify their voices; Ms. Harris, in both her original comments and in her apology, failed in this fundamental obligation.

Grace Lovelace is a second-grade teacher at Brown Station Elementary School.
David Stein is a math teacher at Montgomery Blair High School.
Kerrin Torres-Meriwether is a staff development teacher at Watkins Mill High School.

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Harris Apologizes for Comments on School Reopening

By Adam Pagnucco.

School board at-large candidate Lynne Harris, who blasted the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) for allegedly obstructing school reopening, has apologized. Harris issued the statement below on her website.

STATEMENT REGARDING COMMENTS IN SEPT. 27 SILVER CHIPS PRESS RELEASE

I deeply apologize for comments I made to the reporters from Silver Chips, the student newspaper for Montgomery Blair High School. I recognize that the comments hurt and offended fellow teachers and do not reflect my deep respect and gratitude for their dedicated work to support our students.

As a teacher myself, I know how hard MCPS staff members are working during this time of crisis. Many of us are balancing the work with supporting the distance learning of our own kids — that can be a gargantuan task, particularly if you have young learners, or students with special needs. As rewarding as the work is, many of us are feeling fatigue and frustration working 7 days a week to get the job done.

It’s a bad idea to speak to the media when you’re tired and frustrated. My words do not reflect how much I value the hard work of MCPS educators. I am sorry to anyone who feels unappreciated by my poorly-worded comments. Offending hard-working fellow teachers is the last thing I ever intended to do.

I’m grateful to the many teachers and staff who volunteered for the important work on design teams last summer. I also worked on a curriculum review/writing team, which included writing a plan to bring small groups of students safely back into our buildings for specialized training. While teachers were working on these projects, MCEA (the teachers’ union) and MCPS were simultaneously engaged in difficult contract negotiations, impacting a more collaborative approach to create a plan for distance learning.

I hope you’ll read my blog below for a more thorough perspective. Teachers, MCPS, families – we all want to keep students and staff safe. I welcome a meeting with MCEA anytime to clear up any misunderstandings.

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Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening

By Adam Pagnucco.

Silver Chips, the online newspaper for Blair High School, had quite a scoop yesterday. The newspaper asked school board at-large candidates Lynne Harris and Sunil Dasgupta for their opinions on the statement issued by MCPS and its three employee unions about potential reopening for in-person instruction. According to Silver Chips, Harris said the following in an email on Saturday:

Personally I’m completely frustrated that the associations, especially MCEA, would NOT get in the boat and row since Spring to help create meaningful Covid plans for teaching and learning, especially limited in-person instruction––they were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything. We need plans in place NOW to bring small groups of students into schools safely––for special education instruction, for specialized arts and other programs that require access to MCPS facilities and resources to be equitably delivered, for CTE programs that can’t be delivered virtually etc.

Harris had more to say about this topic on her website.

Silver Chips also carried a reply from Dasgupta that conforms with his guest blog on Seventh State today.

Dasgupta has been endorsed by MCEA (the teachers) and SEIU Local 500 (support staff) among others. Harris has been endorsed by the Washington Post editorial board, which at various times over the years has been critical of MCEA.

During the primary, there weren’t a lot of apparent differences between Harris and Dasgupta as both were defending MCPS’s boundary study from criticism by fellow at-large candidate Stephen Austin, who finished third, and his supporters. Silver Chips has done the public an immense service by revealing a meaningful difference between these candidates.

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Changing the Reopening Timeline: A Recipe for Confusion and Anxiety

Guest column by Dr. Sunil Dasgupta, Candidate for Montgomery County Board of Education At-Large.

MCPS’s decision to start the 45 day clock on potentially reopening school buildings is premature. While MCPS should absolutely be working collaboratively with teachers, staff, families, and students on a reopening plan, starting the clock before answering some basic questions is disruptive and anxiety-producing for everyone involved.

To calm anxieties and provide a clear path forward, MCPS leadership should focus on three goals in the near term. The first goal should be clear communication with all stakeholders. The second goal should be to meet student needs in the immediate context of online learning. And the third goal should be to collaboratively develop a safe reopening plan with employees, families, and students.

Clear Communication

Clear communication with the public has been MCPS’ biggest shortcoming during the pandemic. We are only four weeks into the first quarter, so it is unclear why MCPS is making an announcement on a 45 day timeline that could place some students and staff back in buildings in early November, after announcing in July that the first semester would be online-only.

In his July announcement regarding the fall semester, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith wrote, “the safest choice for our district is to remain in a virtual-only instructional model through the first semester—January 29, 2021; or until state and local health officials determine conditions in our county allow for students to return safely after the first semester.” MCPS should stick to its previous timeline in order to ensure student and staff safety, and to provide desperately needed clarity for all stakeholders.

Meeting Students’ Immediate Needs

MCPS has performed much better in this area, but there are still students who need additional resources and support to make online learning as productive as possible. Many students in certain zip codes still lack access to high-speed internet and functioning Chromebooks. MCPS leadership and local staff are focused on this issue, and they should continue to reach out in every way possible to get these students and families connected to the learning that is taking place online.

MCPS recognizes that student mental health is suffering during the pandemic and is rightly focused on providing additional support to students and staff. And the school system continues to provide meals to thousands of students on a weekly basis.

A Collaborative Plan for a Safe Reopening

While teachers and staff are doing an amazing job considering the circumstances, not every student’s needs can be met through online instruction. Unfortunately, MCPS continues to persist with poorly designed surveys to gauge what families and staff want, hindering our ability to craft a reopening plan that fits the situation.

To honor individual choices of families and employees, MCPS needs better data. Rather than running poorly-designed surveys, there needs to be a census of every student and every staff member. We should ask the question, “When do you want to return,” and offer a menu of conditions to choose from. The census could be tied to student and employee dashboards, so everyone must answer before they can proceed with schoolwork. Importantly, respondents should have the ability to log back in and change their minds by picking a reason from a menu. Rather than an artificial 45 day timer, this evolving census data should help drive decisions to return.

The MCPS employee associations must be at the table contributing to the discussion on safety precautions, equipment and materials, protocols for testing, tracing, and quarantining, medical leave, substitution, and the many transitions between online and in-person delivery of instruction. There is also considerable work to be done to assess infrastructure – especially school building ventilation – and to identify safe teaching spaces. Teachers and staff must be involved in every step of the planning process.

What Now

This difficult moment requires steady leadership, deep collaboration, and clear communication. We should be squarely focused on how to safely meet the needs of all students. By all means, we should be planning how and when to reopen, but setting an artificial timer is not going to bring clarity. It’s a recipe for confusion and further anxiety.

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