Montgomery County Public Schools sent the following message to parents and students on Sunday afternoon:
Dear MCPS Community,
The past week has been extremely challenging for everyone in our community. Evolving COVID-19 guidance, bus staffing shortages and inclement weather caused disruptions to teaching and learning and school operations. While the circumstances leading to these disruptions are beyond our control, we should have done a better job communicating with you about these challenges and clarifying our response. I apologize for any stress this caused our staff, students, and community members.
The health and well-being of our students and staff remain our top priority. We continue to believe that in-person learning is the best way to meet the educational, social, and emotional needs of our students and will continue to prioritize keeping our school buildings open. Switching any school to virtual learning—even for a short period of time—will be a last resort and that decision will be based on the best information available and the guidance of national, state, and local health professionals.
The remainder of this message outlines what steps we are taking to ensure the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and families; updates to school operations; and when we will consider switching a school to virtual learning. This includes information about:
- The distribution of KN-95 masks and rapid test kits to all students and staff;
- New isolation and quarantine procedures for staff, based on revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC); and
- An update on school operations, including bus service and the resumption of extracurricular activities;
- An upcoming community conversation to discuss school system operations; and
- How you can help us make informed decisions about keeping schools open.
I know that many of our families are struggling with the impact of the pandemic right now, and that includes my family: I tested positive for COVID-19 early last week. Thankfully, my symptoms have been mild, and I am working at home while isolating. Together, I know we can make it through this difficult time. Our community is strong and our commitment to our students is unwavering. Thank you for your support of MCPS, our students, and our outstanding staff.
Monifa B. McKnight, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent of Schools
KN-95 Masks for All Students and Staff
Last week all staff members received KN-95 masks, and we will be providing KN-95 masks to all students over the course of the next two weeks. These masks provide a higher level of protection than most other masks, and we strongly encourage students and staff to wear them when inside MCPS facilities as masks continue to be required.
Rapid Test Kits for All Students and Staff
Students and staff will receive take-home rapid test kits 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. (You may also call your child’s school if you are not able to submit the information electronically.) Please report all results, both positive and negative, when using the rapid test kits distributed in schools by this Friday, January 14. Please also continue to report all positive test results for students and staff that come from tests not provided by the school system. Any student who tests positive will be required to isolate for 10 days from the date of the positive test, or 10 days from the onset of symptoms, whichever is earlier.
Eleven Schools Currently in Virtual Learning
We have 11 schools that transitioned to 14 days of virtual learning last week. Out of recognition that many families have made plans based on the information provided, these 11 schools will remain in virtual learning this week. They will return to in-person learning effective Tuesday, January 18. Rapid test kits will be distributed at these schools this week; all students and staff are strongly encouraged to take the rapid test and report the results by this Friday, January 14.
Possible Future Transitions to Virtual Learning
Moving forward, MCPS will work with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to examine schools on a case-by-case basis to determine if any particular school needs to transition to virtual learning for a designated period of time due to health or operational reasons. Factors considered will continue to include the number of students and staff who have tested positive; the number of students in quarantine; the number of staff absent for COVID-related reasons; and the level of spread of the virus in the school.
MCPS Bus Transportation
While we continue to work to respond to the COVID-19 related bus driver staffing challenges, we will take the following actions in an attempt to minimize disruption:
- Communicate specific routes and affected schools through updates on this page and on the MCPS homepage. The initial list for each day will be posted by 7:00 pm on the prior evening; however, there may be additions each morning.
- Prioritize routes that serve students with special needs.
- Continue to use available staff to drive multiple routes serving one school.
- Also, use available transportation support staff and supervisors to cover routes.
Additionally, we are exploring numerous recruiting strategies and a variety of other options to meet both short-and long-term staffing shortages in the Department of Transportation. Thank you very much for your patience. Apply here.
Virtual Community Conversation on COVID-19 Response
We value ongoing dialogue with our community and will be scheduling a virtual community conversation this Wednesday, January 12, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm. More details will be shared in an update early this week.
- Revised Isolation Guidelines for Staff
Staff who test positive for COVID-19 or have suspected COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, must stay home for at least 5 full days from the date of symptom onset if symptomatic or the date of the positive test if no symptoms.
- After Day 5, if the individual has no symptoms without the use of fever-reducing medication, the individual may return to school as long as they wear a well-fitting mask when around others for an additional 5 days, and as required by MCPS and MSDE guidelines regarding mask use in schools.
- If the individual is unable to wear a mask when around others, they should remain at home for at least a full 10 days.
In the future, the number of isolation days may be reduced for students as community-level data regarding the transmission or outbreak of the virus decreases.
Revised Quarantine Guidelines for Staff
These quarantine guidelines apply to staff who are close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and are unvaccinated; adults 18 years and older who have completed the primary series of Pfizer vaccine over 5 months ago or Moderna vaccine over 6 months ago and are not boosted OR completed the primary series of J&J over 2 months ago and are not boosted; or have not had COVID-19 in the past 90 days:
- These staff must stay home for at least 5 full days after the last close contact.
- After Day 5, if the individual has had no symptoms, the individual is encouraged to get tested and may return to work as long as they wear a well-fitting mask when around others for an additional 5 days.
- If the individual is unable to wear a mask when around others, they should remain at home for at least 10 full days.
- If the individual develops symptoms at any point, they should remain at home, get tested and follow the isolation guidelines above.
- All other staff who are close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine.
In the future, the number of quarantine days may be reduced for students as community-level data regarding the transmission or outbreak of the virus decreases.
In-Person Extracurricular Activities May Resume Tuesday, Jan. 18
All in-person extracurricular activities may resume effective Tuesday, Jan. 18. All participants are required to complete the rapid test provided by the school and submit the result no later than Friday, Jan. 14. No spectators are allowed at extracurricular activities. These activities are assessed on a daily basis based on emerging public health science and data, and are subject to change over the next month in response to the Omicron variant.
How You Can Help
We need your help in keeping our students and staff safe and ensuring we have complete information. Here’s how you can help!
- Report results on the system-provided rapid COVID-19 test
Please report all results, both positive and negative, by this Friday, January 14, when using the rapid test kits distributed in schools. Please also continue to report all positive test results for students and staff that come from tests not provided by the school system. The way to report this information is by using this electronic form.
- Keep children home if they have any symptoms of illness.
It’s important that students don’t spread their illness to others. Please keep them home when they are sick and have them tested for COVID-19 as an extra precaution.
- Say Yes to the Test.
Parents must give their permission for in-school testing and they can do so by completing this form. For more details, please visit our “Say Yes to the Test” website.
Social-Emotional Health and Well-Being
This is a difficult time for everyone in our community. The pandemic remains a source of anxiety for many, and MCPS is committed to providing resources to support students, staff and families as we move through the pandemic. Schools will have counselors and psychologists available, and all staff are encouraged to contact the Employee Assistance Programfor support and resources.