Parents and families of MCPS students need substantive discussions and concrete actions from the Board of Education at their next meeting. We do not need more lengthy discussions of self-congratulations, pats on the back, or tangential topics. The most pressing issue must be opening schools. President Biden calls it a national emergency, and the Board of Education needs to make this their major focus at their March 11 meeting and at every subsequent meeting. Four areas, in particular, must be addressed in a clear and concise manner.
The first involves CDC recommendations. MCPS leadership and the board need to provide a clear explanation and justification of which portions of the CDC guidance they are or are not following. It is especially important to hear proactive plans for the full return of students when Montgomery County reaches the yellow zone of case rates. This is a real possibility this spring based on CDC projections and trends in case rates, and the public needs to know MCPS’ plan if they are following the color-coded zone guidance. The yellow zone would be a full return, thus eliminating the hybrid schedule and increasing the number of students in a classroom and would be a major change to the current plans.
Second, MCPS leadership and the board must accelerate its timeline for students to return to schools. Maryland is ranked nearly last in the US for students returning to in-person learning, and Montgomery County is last in the state of Maryland. We can and must do better than being the last of the last. We need to hear more than vague promises by the board to discuss it at later meetings. We need to know which grades will be moved up to which weeks now.
Third, MCPS leadership and the board need to provide the current status and updated numbers of families selecting in-person vs. full virtual learning options for the public. Much has changed since the registration survey was sent in December. Schools have followed up with the vast numbers of families who didn’t respond. Families, especially in households where English is not the first language, are reporting that they never received the survey. Some families want to switch their selection to in-person now that vaccinations are increasing. Others want to change to full virtual because of the learning model at their school, i.e. the support model with the same virtual instruction in the school building.
There are reports of schools with waiting lists. Families need to know immediately if there are possibilities to accommodate them at other schools. It is unacceptable that students that wish to return to a public school cannot, or worse, need to pay to enroll in a learning/equity hub to be in school.
And, lastly, MCPS must commit to full in-person, 5-day a week learning in fall 2021.There is no need for Wednesday as a day of cleaning, even currently based on CDC guidance. And there will be no need for a hybrid model by fall. Adults and quite possibly children age 12 and older will be vaccinated. A virtual learning option should be an exception and provided separately by the state or MCPS. The default should be full in-person instruction. Families need to hear that promise from MCPS and the board now.
It is time for MCPS and the board to act with urgency and speak with meaning and purpose. It is time for them to act as public servants to MCPS families.
Traicoff is the parent of 2 MCPS students and a member of the Together Again MCPS group.