Board of Education votes to delay return to school until March 15


Photo from the Board of Education Livestream

The Board of Education meeting on Jan. 12, voting to delay the reopening of school buildings until Mar. 15.

On Jan. 12, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to move the starting date of phasing in in-person learning from Feb. 1 to Mar. 15, voting seven to one. The board member who voted against the delay, Rebecca Smondrowski, expressed her concern with the lack of information regarding the rollout of the delayed reopening

This change comes in order to meet the metrics needed for return. While the current case rate using a seven-day average per 100 thousand residents in Montgomery County is 33.8, the Board’s goal is to reach a new case rate of 15 before being able to return to school. The positivity rate must also be less than five percent. 

In the event of a reopening, social distancing and masks would be required, and the number of students would be limited by building capacity to ensure safety. Regular bell times would also be used for both virtual and in-person settings, with school beginning at 7:45 A.M. and ending at 2:30 P.M. for high schools. 

Although senior Owen Matus wants to return to in-person instruction, he does not want to return as long as the current case rate and positivity rate is higher than the Board’s goal. “I’d like to go back to school to say goodbye to my friends before senior year ends, but I know it’s not safe to open schools right now,” Matus said. “It makes sense that they pushed the date back, but I hope they won’t have to keep delaying the phase-in period.” 

Governor Larry Hogan on Jan. 21 issued his own announcement regarding the reopening of schools, pressuring districts to bring students back for in-person instruction by Mar. 1, or face legal action. 

COVID-19 hits low-income communities the hardest, and sending children back to school only makes the pre-existing inequities in schools a life or death matter.

— Alanna Li

Hogan’s announcement directly affects MCPS’ decision to remain fully virtual, and he has suggested that if schools do not reopen by the Mar. 1 deadline, he will begin to explore every legal avenue at his disposal.  

Junior Alanna Li disagrees with Hogan’s push to return to schools sooner and thinks returning before the pandemic is over will make current education inequalities worse. “I think it’s hypocritical for Hogan to advocate for students to go back to schools on the basis of their ‘well-being’ and ‘development’ when he’s actively worked against education reform by vetoing the Kirwan plan. While quarantine learning has exacerbated educational inequities, sending children back to school while the pandemic is still happening is a clear threat to education and will only make matters worse,” Li said. “COVID-19 hits low-income communities the hardest, and sending children back to school only makes the pre-existing inequities in schools a life or death matter.” 

The Board of Education will meet in February to review COVID-19 metrics once again, and a final decision regarding the Mar. 15 reopening plans will be made by Feb. 23. If schools do begin to reopen on Mar. 15, students would have around three months of in-person classes before the end of the academic year, June 16.