Montgomery County Board of Education Meeting Notes (2/23/21)

Notes From the 2/23/21 Montgomery County Board of Education Meeting

Blair High School’s student newspaper, Silver Chips, has provided us with notes from the meeting to share with our readers (can follow Silver Chips on Twitter): 

Notes will be updated as meeting continues.

• This is the first (even partially) in-person Board meeting in almost a year.

Board president Brenda Wolff (District 5) explains that due to safety protocols, only five BOE members, limited staff, and the TV/recording crew can gather in-person.

Brenda Wolff (District 5)
Karla Silvestre (At-Large)
Shebra Evans (District 4)
Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2)
Lynne Harris (At-Large)

Nick Asante (SMOB)
Judith Docca (District 1)
Patricia O’Neill (District 3)

• Today’s public comment period features 20 community testimonies, including from teachers’ union president Christopher Lloyd (@mceaprez) and Blair journalism teacher Sarah Forman.

If interested, you can view all submissions here.

• Chief of Engagement, Innovation, and Operations Derek Turner shares an update on vaccinations for staff members, pictured below.

Students and staff will take a weekly health survey. These will be collected centrally and then shared with each individual principal, per Turner.

• Turner adds that @MCPS will provide digital thermometers to all families.

• Seth Adams, the MCPS director of facilities, says that air cleaners will not necessarily be present in all rooms or buildings.

School water fountains will not be in use when buildings reopen; water bottle fillers will. See photos below.

• MCPS will be receiving roughly 50,000 test kits from the state of Maryland, Turner says.

If there is a positive test in the pooled sample, the whole class will be quarantined. Students and staff can opt-out of this regular testing if they so choose.

• Assoc. Supt. of Operations Essie McGuire offers an update on health staff. She says anyone with symptoms will be separated into designated rooms and supervised by health staff.

• Moving into Q&A, O’Neill asks about the process for enforcing masks, social distancing, and honesty in the self-reported symptom survey.

“Part of this is really relying on trust with our families and our students to give us information if they are symptomatic,” Turner responds.

Turner and Deputy Supt. Monifa McKnight add that MCPS does not intend to penalize students if and when families choose not to share personal health information with the district.

• For mask enforcement, Turner says: “Most students really want to comply with the mask, they don’t see any problem with it, and they’ve become really accustomed to wearing it.”

He adds that the student code of conduct can be enforced if needed.

• Student Member of the Board Nick Asante asks why students and staff will be allowed to opt-out of regular testing.

Turner says mandating tests could violate employee relationships but that MCPS does intend to encourage these regular tests.

•Turner and McGuire share a flowchart (pictured below) summarizing the steps MCPS will take if a student starts showing symptoms.

McKnight stresses that students can return to a virtual learning platform at any point to avoid missing instructional material.

• Smondrowski asks how the district is determining which schools need new filters as opposed to a touch-up of existing systems.

Adams and McGuire stress the complexity of each school’s system. There are standards upon standards, McGuire says, but “it’s not an on/off switch.”

• Harris: “Some of the things we’re sharing [and learning] just now… could have been shared much earlier and would have relieved anxiety.

“How can the system work with community partners… to share this information… because the 56-page reopening guide… was overwhelming.”

McKnight answers, saying the district will continually learn about and improve the plan as it progresses. Turner adds that there will be a full community meeting to answer questions and address concerns tomorrow (2/24) evening.

• O’Neill asks about vaccine plans and suggests that the Board write to County Executive Marc Elrich and the County Council to ask that staff vaccinations be prioritized.

Wolff says she intends to have the Board staff prepare a letter on behalf of the entire Board to that effect.

• Following a brief recess, Area Assoc. Supt. Diane Morris is now sharing info about scheduling and transportation.

Virtual and in-person schedules sync up. The first educational period begins at 9:00 a.m., with the time between then and bus arrival reserved for academic support.

• Elementary, middle, and high school schedules are included below.

No high schools will have an open lunch period.

• Assoc. Supt. Peter Cevenini shares a technology update, saying all needed technology will be ready before certain physical classrooms reopen.

Cevenini also said that numerous professional development opportunities will be available, including topics listed below.

• SMOB Nick Asante asks how dual enrollment courses will fit into the hybrid learning model.

Assoc. Supt. Janet Wilson says she’ll follow up. McKnight adds that Montgomery College will offer these courses online, so transportation isn’t a concern.

• @ArgylePrincipal James Allrich shares details about successful outreach methods employed at Argyle Middle School.

Paint Branch principal @AfieMirshah joins to discuss how Paint Branch is supporting seniors, particularly those not on track for graduation

• Assoc. Supt. Niki Hazel is now discussing efforts to improve virtual learning. This includes increased professional development, more office hour opportunities, as well as additional academic support and small group instruction.

• Assoc. Supt. Diane Morris offers an update on the current state of extracurriculars, with over 1,500 programs meeting virtually.

Starting April 6, it may be possible for extracurricular clubs to begin meeting in-person once a week with principal permission.

Hazel adds information on plans for academic enrichment programs this summer. The objective is for these to span from late June to early August, with a focus on courses required for graduation.

Registration will open in April.

NEW: Hazel says families may choose for first semester grades to be listed as Credit / No Credit (for classes not required for graduation).

Other grading changes are listed below.

NEW: Board unanimously votes to loosen Class of 2021 graduation requirements.

Presently, MCPS requires more than the state does. Accordingly, Hazel recommended changing the criteria, as below:
– Half-credit in physical education instead of a full
– 3 math credits instead of 4

In the final presentation portion, Assoc. Supt. Ruschelle Reuben offers an update on ongoing efforts by counselors and other staff members working to support student welfare.

MCPS also shared an update on new hires to facilitate the hybrid model. Since Feb. 19, 139 new teachers have been hired.


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