Montgomery County Public Schools sent an apology and an update on Sunday afternoon after last week’s disruptions related to COVID-19, bus shortages and school closings.
In the community message, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said that she, too, tested positive for COVID-19 early last week and has had mild symptoms.
The district’s message includes its latest plans for mask use, testing, in-person and virtual instruction, and transportation.
• The district said that all staff members received KN-95 masks last week and that all students are to receive the same masks over the next two weeks. Mask use is required inside MCPS buildings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, KN-95s are the “most widely available respirators that meet an international standard.”
• Students and employees are slated to get take-home rapid tests this week. “Parents are asked to help students administer these tests at home and to submit whether their child has tested positive or negative using the MCPS COVID-19 Reporting Form” or call the school, the message says. The district urged families to report students’ positive or negative results by Friday.
Any student who tests positive must isolate for 10 days from the date of the positive test or 10 days from the onset of symptoms, whichever is earlier.
• Eleven schools within the district have switched to virtual learning for 14 days and will return in person on Jan. 18. Rapid test kits will be distributed at those schools this week, according to the statement.
MCPS has abandoned a policy that called for an automatic review of schools for a possible switch to virtual instruction once at least 5% of the students and employees had tested positive for COVID-19. After promising to update that data at 7 p.m. on each school day, MCPS stopped providing updates after two days.
• MCPS will work with the county Department of Health and Human Services to examine each school’s status and whether it should switch from in-person to virtual instruction, the community message said. The factors will include the number of students and employees who tested positive, the number of students in quarantine, the number of employees absent for COVID-19 reasons, and the extent of virus spread in the school.
• The district will continue to try to minimize the disruption caused by a shortage of school bus drivers, which has forced families to step in and take their children to and from school, if they can. An initial list of bus routes that have been disrupted will be posted by 7 p.m. the day before a school day, the district promised. Updates might be added in the morning. The district said it is still working on how to find and recruit more drivers.
• MCPS has scheduled a virtual community meeting to talk about the latest issues on Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. An update with more details will be shared “early this week.”
• Employees who tested positive for COVID-19 or who might have it — regardless of vaccination status — must stay home for at least five full days from either the onset of symptoms or the date of a positive test if there were no symptoms. When they return to school, they must wear a well-fitting mask for at least five days. If they can’t wear a mask around other people, they must stay home for at least 10 full days.
• The message addresses quarantine protocol for certain employees not fully vaccinated and boosted and who have had a close contact with someone who tested positive. Those people must stay at home for at least five full days after the contact. The same practice is in effect after that — five full days of use of a well-fitting mask when they return to work. If they can’t use a mask, they must extend the stay at home to 10 full days.
• In-person extracurricular activities might resume on Jan. 18. Spectators will not be allowed.
McKnight, in her portion of the message, apologized for how the district handled sudden changes last week.
“While the circumstances leading to these disruptions are beyond our control,” she said in the message, “we should have done a better job communicating with you about these challenges and clarifying our response. I apologize for any stress this cause our staff, students, and community members.”