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Graphic by Malaak McDonald and Ashley Ngyuen

Pro/Con: Should MCPS Consider Return to Virtual Instruction?

January 31, 2022

PRO

A recent surge in COVID-19 cases has made it apparent that a switch to virtual learning may again be necessary for the health of the RHS community. MCPS has been unclear about what criteria for going virtual are and has changed policies without good communication to the community. To ensure student safety and comfort MCPS should continue to provide ways for their students to receive instruction at home and maintain clear communication with the community.

Making the switch to virtual learning would be a hugely unpopular decision, and MCPS has been reluctant to make a county-wide transition to hybrid or virtual learning, with Interim Superintendent of Schools, Monifa McKnight, stating in a community update that it would be a “last resort” to switch any school to virtual learning.

Prior to Jan. 7, MCPS was using a threshold of 5% student cases to consider a 14-day transition to virtual school. On Jan. 5, the first day back from break, 126 of MCPS’s 209 schools hit the 5% threshold and the policy was rescinded soon after.

As of Jan. 18, there were 16 schools to be in virtual learning starting Jan. 20 that will return to school on Jan. 31.

MCPS currently considers a variety of factors, such as student and staff absences, unfilled sub positions, affected bus routes, and the number of cases over a 10 day period, before starting a conversation about switching a single school to virtual. That conversation considers teachers, students, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the principal of the school in question. 

While RHS and other individual schools cannot make the executive decision to switch to virtual learning, they can request a review, starting the conversation to a potential switch. The final call is made by the MCPS Executive Team.

Parents may request that their child receive virtual instruction through methods such as live-streamed classes through Feb. 11. If parents want their child to receive virtual instruction, they must contact the school to have absences excused.

“We feel like our kids learn best here.” Principal Rhoshanda Pyles said, “You’re making memories and working toward earning those credits for graduation.”

Regardless of where students learn best, they deserve to feel and be safe while they are learning. If students do not feel comfortable at school they should be given the option to receive alternative types of instruction. 

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CON

From a recent surge of COVID-19 cases and the omicron variant, virtual learning again became an option for many school communities, including MCPS. If MCPS considers a transition to virtual, although it may provide benefits, there are also many negative factors to consider as well. 

With a transition, students may lack effort, participate less, and have fewer interactions with classmates and teachers. Any return to virtual learning would be detrimental to student success.

The decision of going virtual or not is constantly debated throughout the community of students, staff, and parents. On Dec. 20, MCPS released in an announcement a “5% threshold,” where any school that reported 5% or more of students and staff testing positive for COVID-19, schools shifted towards virtual learning through considerations with the DHHS and the Maryland Department of Health. 

But soon enough on Jan. 7, MCPS followed up towards their threshold and stated in a press release that “The state of Maryland does not currently recommend any automatic trigger or threshold for the suspension of in-person learning.” Board officials confirmed in this press that MCPS will no longer use the 5% threshold or transition schools to virtual for that reason. 

Many families and students felt frustration and confusion over the announcement when first released due to the sudden change in plan, especially since the majority of schools were at the red edge of 5% or above. In response to these reactions and in order to decrease concerns, MCPS mentioned many medical professionals are working with them to participate and provide helpful information, and that primary health guidance is provided by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.

With the continuation of in-person learning, MCPS has also made it important to let the community know that regardless of removing the 5% threshold, schools throughout the county are continuing to be monitored individually and positive cases of COVID-19 are still being tracked by the Department of Health, and if any particular school needs to transition to virtual learning for a designated period, it would. 

Further precautions are also being taken to provide the best possible safety for students and staff. This includes distribution of KN-95 masks to each student, enhanced ventilation in the building, vaccination requirements for athletics, and increased access to testing through permission slips and instant tests. With these developments, MCPS is continuing to respond to safety concerns and acknowledge that a virtual transition is not yet necessary.

 

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