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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
The Montgomery County Board of Education made it official on Aug. 6, voting to approve a virtual-only opening for the 2020-2021 school year, which will begin on Aug. 31.
Based on the Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) draft Recovery of Education Plan for the new school year, all students will have live instruction and a full day of instructional experiences from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
In the document, released by MCPS on Aug. 4, Superintendent Jack R. Smith that school system officials will continue to improve upon the plan as they receive feedback from parents, staff and students.
“We will continue to work with the community to address concerns and questions over the coming weeks as we quickly approach the first day of school,” Smith wrote.
He said MCPS will reassess the impact of COVID-19 on school system operations in November, and “work with state and local officials to determine whether we can transition to our blended learning model or if we must remain in virtual learning for part or all of the second semester.”
The school board did not vote to approve the draft Recovery of Education Plan, but provided input and asked questions. The board will review and take final action on the virtual-only plan on Aug. 25.
On July 21, Smith announced MCPS planned to begin the school year virtually, at least through the first semester, which ends on Jan. 29.
He said that decision was based on guidelines from County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles.
In his weekly media briefing with County Executive Marc Elrich on Aug. 12, Gayles said children and youths in the 0-19 age group — which used to be one of the age groups with the smallest number of COVID-19 cases in the county and the state – now accounts for 17 percent to 18 percent of the cases.
Gayles said the numbers are increasing because more testing is being conducted, but nonetheless, the numbers are growing and is still problematic.
A typical school day
The draft Recovery of Education Plan contains sample schedules for elementary and secondary students, although schools may adjust the schedules to meet the scheduling needs of the school and its students.
Some non-scheduled class time will be scheduled on Wednesdays for students to work independently and get support. Staff will work on planning, examining student work, grading or professional development during that time.
Learning experiences for elementary students will include time in small groups, independent work and teacher-led activities. Students will also engage in non-screen related instructional activities such as reading assignments and workbook problems.
Middle and high school students will remain enrolled in their core academic classes, required courses, electives, support classes and special programs.
Like a traditional schedule, students will be assigned to their subject area teachers by class period. The live instructional schedule will include full class periods, with teachers fully engaged with their students for the duration of the lesson.
Generally, students will have four class periods per day and will be given time for additional live academic and/or social emotional support. Each class will meet at least twice each week.
On Wednesdays, the day will begin at 10 a.m. and ends at 4:10 p.m. to allow time for all periods to have check-in times during the afternoon.
MCPS is developing a process for recording lessons that families can access at a later time.
A traditional grading system will be in place and students will be held accountable for attendance.
Free meals will continue, and MCPS says it is committed to providing all students with the technology and support they need to fully engage in virtual-only learning. Devices will be distributed at the end of August.
MCPS will also provide wireless hotspot devices (based on approved need) for students who do not have home internet access.
Although fall and winter sports are canceled, some sports and extracurricular activities will be available virtually.
For more information or to view the draft Recovery of Education Plan, go to https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/reopening/
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