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by Judith Hruz
County public schools welcomed nearly 160,000 students for in-person learning on Aug. 30, nearly a year and a half after school-building doors were shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now it’s time for us to take that step,” Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Acting Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight said during an Aug. 25 media briefing. “I’ll call it the new normal.”
McKnight said the school system had been preparing all summer for that day. She said parents and the community have also have pitched in, and “students have shown incredible determination and resilience.”
All of that will add up to “new and better ways to provide instruction,” she said.
County Executive Marc Elrich called the beginning of the new school year “an exciting time for students, teachers and staff,” and thanked McKnight for being “an excellent partner” in preparing for in-person learning.
“As a former teacher, I can only imagine how difficult it was to teach remotely the last year and a half,” he said, adding it is better for everyone “if we can manage going back to school.”
As part of managing being in school buildings while coronavirus cases are still being reported, county officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated to prevent COVID-19.
Students, teachers, staff and everyone else who enters a county public school are required to wear a face covering, but officials say vaccinations are critical in the battle against the coronavirus
“We need people to sign on and get vaccinated,” he said of those who are eligible but are not yet inoculated.
“We do not need adults spreading COVID to kids in classrooms,” he said.
The Montgomery County Board of Education on July 27 voted unanimously to require masks regardless of whether a person is vaccinated against COVID-19 or not.
The same day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added to its guidance a recommendation of universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
According to county school board members, face coverings are required inside MCPS buildings and on school buses. That decision aligned with the practice for students who attended summer school and the state’s requirement for public transportation, school officials said.
Face coverings were not required outdoors, at press time, but strongly recommended for those who are not vaccinated, school officials said.
Because vaccinations are not yet approved for children under age 12, many students are not qualified to be inoculated.
“This is about our community together and making the best decision for keeping everyone safe,” McKnight had said in July.
The school board’s decision will be revisited regularly, she said.
In a letter to the MCPS community on its website, the Board of Education said its decision aligns with the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as local health officials.
She said the school system will continue to follow national, state and local health protocols and do its part, including:
Staff will be fully vaccinated or have weekly tests for COVID-19;
Strict cleaning of all buildings;
Outdoor lunch, done safely and with supervision, and with the cooperation of the community;
Frequent and clear communication with staff, parents and students about what is happening in schools; and
If quarantine is necessary for a student, making sure that student has access to whatever her or she needs.
On Aug. 26, the State Board of Education approved a regulation requiring that masks be worn inside all schools in Maryland this school year.
The state General Assembly must approve the measure, and that had not been done at press time.
Back to ‘normal’
According to county school officials, all schools have returned to their pre-COVID schedules, including bell times, bus schedules, number and length of class periods per day, lunch and recess.
Schools will be open at 100 percent capacity five days a week this fall.
Roscoe Nix and Arcola elementary schools, the district’s Innovative Calendar schools, started their school year on July 12.
Those schools have a 210-day school year, with 30 additional days of instruction.
All meals will be provided free of charge during the 2021-2022 school year, the school system reported. MCPS will continue to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner meals to all students in schools and at designated food distribution sites.
For more on Montgomery County Public Schools, visit www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org.
For more on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit www.cdc.gov.
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