Registration for Montgomery County Public Schools summer school opened May 15, but this year the district is only extending the invitation to select students based on academic performance.
“This summer, we are shifting back to a pre-pandemic model that focuses on the most highly impacted students,” MCPS spokesperson Jessica Baxter wrote to MoCo360.
Last year’s summer school model—where any interested student could register—was made possible through $387.2 million of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds allocated to the district to curb pandemic-related learning loss, according to Baxter. She said funds are “winding down” as the district enters its third and final year under ESSER.
Jennifer Reesman is an MCPS parent and a licensed children’s neuropsychologist from Bethesda. She said she’s concerned about how the school district is allocating its ESSER funds to address learning loss and described funding summer school as “low-hanging fruit.”
“There hasn’t been clear communication about the shift in criteria, so last year [summer school] was underutilized for the kids who needed it,” she said. “It’s really sad because it’s a wonderful resource staffed by wonderful teachers.”
Baxter did not immediately respond to requests for data on how many students registered for summer school last year.
This year, registration for all summer school programs—including special education—from elementary through high school will be made available by invitation only.
In total, Baxter said 8,100 students in first through eighth grade will be invited to attend 2023 summer school. For high schoolers, the program will be open to students based on graduation requirements, she said.
The criteria used to determine eligibility includes math and English report card grades, state assessments, participation in math or literacy interventions, according to Baxter. At the elementary level, the criteria also include scoring on a basic literacy skill test called the DIBELS assessment, she said.
One area where staffing remains a high concern is special education. Over the summer, MCPS offers a program called the Extended School Year (ESY), which is exclusively for students receiving special education services.
Reesman said the school district shifted the ESY program to virtual last year due to lack of adequate staffing—a move communicated to parents only days before the program started. Baxter confirmed this in an email to MoCo360. Reesman said among parents there’s “definitely a concern” this might happen again if staffing needs aren’t fully met.
According to Baxter, there are 4,833 students registered for ESY 2023 as of May 15. To fully staff the program, she said 660 positions would need to be filled. Currently, the school district is 119 teachers short of meeting that goal.
“There definitely is a need,” Baxter said of ESY staffing, adding that MCPS recently promoted an open house to garner interest in the program.
MCPS parent Laura Vaughan of Damascus told MoCo360 she’s concerned that if the special education program isn’t fully staffed and students can’t meet for in-person learning, their pandemic-related learning loss might be further exacerbated.
“The problem is that ESY is for kids with emerging skills who would backslide,” she said. “If they wait until the next school year […] kids have regressed. The proverbial ship has sailed.”