Courtesy of montgomeryschoolsmd.org
In a 7-1 vote, the Board of Education decided to push student return to schools from February 15 back to March 15.
Initially, the BOE adopted a plan to phase in students when the county met specific metrics related to COVID-19 infections. These metrics follow a COVID-19 case rate of 15 per 100,000 residents over a 14 day average, or a positivity rate below 5 percent. As the rate of infections continue to rise, these metrics have not been met. As of now Montgomery County has a positivity rate above 7 percent, and has a case rate of 44.7 per 100,00 residents over a 14 day average.
“If you think about the fact that over 6,000 Marylanders have died of Covid—that’s the student body of Watkins Mill four times over—it seems shortsighted to me that we should return to school as cases and deaths continue to rise,” social studies teacher Adam Schwartz said.
“I don’t think we’re going to come back any time soon, especially since it’s getting worse,” senior Edwin Delgado said. As of January 12, the county was at the highest infection rate since the start of the pandemic. The last peak was in May 2020, with an average case rate of 20 per 100,000 residents.
“It cuts out a lot of the things I would’ve experienced in a regular year,” Delgado added. If schools reopen on March 15, that would leave students with three months of in-person learning.
The board will meet again in January and February to further discuss their plans for reopening. They also plan to reevaluate the academic calendar to see if changes need to be made to spring break.
“With the way the numbers are looking and this new, more contagious strain of Covid making the rounds, how can we even think about all going back to a [poorly] ventilated building with no plan for how it will all work,” English teacher Sonya Shpilyuk said. “Going back into the building would only exacerbate the already near-impossible situation.”
“Hopefully the pandemic isn’t worse going into the next school year,” sophomore Amy Lizama said. The BOE can still adjust data thresholds, if health officials believe buildings are safe to return to, and/or staff is vaccinated.
“Distance learning is hard on everyone—students, teachers and parents. But it’s the only choice we have right now,” Shpilyuk added. “It’s important that students, staff and families are all safe before students are returned to buildings.”