Superintendent broadcasts 45-day notice regarding reopening of schools

Wootton+spends+another+day+without+students+or+staff.+The+last+day+of+in-person+instruction+was+March+13.

Josie Rosenstein

Wootton spends another day without students or staff. The last day of in-person instruction was March 13.

On Sep. 25, Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith disseminated a notice to teachers and staff notifying them that planning and discussion of schools’ reopening will begin in 45 days. The statement has left the community wondering if Montgomery County schools are ready to undergo the next steps in reopening.

A few days before the start of the school year began, Governor Larry Hogan urged Maryland school districts to begin the year in a hybrid method, stating that “incentives” would be given to schools that did return in a variation of in-person learning. Three days later, Montgomery County began virtual school, citing that reevaluations and assessments of each learning scenario would continue to be made in the coming months. Montgomery County’s plan at the beginning of the year was to utilize virtual learning until the end of January.

In his letters to colleagues, Smith emphasized that the notice does not state with certainty that schools will reopen come the end of the 45 days. However, it states that conversations and planning regarding reopening may begin once the 45 days have passed. “When health and safety conditions allow, we will begin a phased transition back to in-person instruction,” Smith said.

When health and safety conditions allow, we will begin a phased transition back to in-person instruction”

— Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith

It is required by Montgomery County Public Schools and the Montgomery County Education Association that teachers and staff members receive at least a 45-day notice before returning to an in-person learning model.

Smith’s letter has also raised concerns from parents, staff, and students about the health and safety of everyone impacted by in-person learning. Immunocompromised people are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill, according to the Center for Disease Control. “You have to ask good questions and make sure you have good answers to how we are addressing these real concerns around health and safety,” Principal Kimberly Boldon said.

The county introduced a hybrid method of learning during the summer. It had transitionary grades, meaning kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade, beginning in-person school first. But the model was exchanged for entirely virtual after the county received backlash from the teacher’s union.

For senior Alex Ochman, the superintendent’s letter provided hope that students may return to school in the future. Virtual learning has not proved to be helpful to him and other students. Ochman believes the best in-person learning situation would have all students required to wear masks and use sanitizers before and after each class. “I would be comfortable [attending school] if the number of infected were going down in Maryland,” Ochman said.

Smith’s letter also raises questions on whether or not staff and students will be able to choose whether they attend school in-person or virtually. AP Modern World teacher Amy Pollin said that students should be allowed to decide how they would like to attend. As for staff, she said they should also be given that choice, but she does not know how from a county perspective that would work.