Reopening Montgomery County Public Schools

This is a letter I sent to my Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools on 2/23/21. None of them have replied. None of my concerns have been addressed in public statements since then.

Dear Dr. Smith and Board of Education Members,

I am a parent of two MCPS students and I have been following the reopening plans quite closely. The more I learn about they way the central office has put together this plan, the more confused and upset I am. It appears that this entire scheme is a top-down dictate, devised without input from teachers, administrators, parents, or students.

Everything you have presented up to this point leads me to believe that you are returning kids to buildings just for the sake of having kids inside buildings. I understand the ostensible reasons for opening buildings but you haven’t spoken to any of those reasons. For example:

Mental Health: Many parents and school counselors have been worried about the mental health effects of the pandemic. However, I have yet to hear concrete plans for how the schools will manage this concern. If there is an effort in progress to identify and help students with significant mental health needs, I hope you will clarify that. If there isn’t a plan for this issue, then there needs to be one. Otherwise, MCPS risks failing on one of the top priorities for the return to school.

Social Isolation: There is no doubt that bringing students into the same space will provide an immediate remedy to the fundamental problem of social isolation. However, sitting masked, at a desk, 6 feet away from classmates, with constant 12:1 student to adult supervision is hardly an ideal environment for socializing. K-5 students will have recess periods to interact in a purely social way but that isn’t true for middle and high school students. What does MCPS plan to do to proactively address the social needs of kids? If you don’t have a clear guidance to schools for that, you need to develop it.

Childcare: Four days per week of full time in-person school for K-3 students does address childcare needs for those days. Is MCPS offering any support for before- and after-care or care for asynchronous instruction days? What about care for kids in grades 4 and 5 who will be on an A/B week schedule and still need care 50% of the time? What about childcare in the event that a student needs to quarantine and do virtual learning for some period of time? Will the school work with employers to aid adults in managing unexpected schedule changes? How is MCPS planning to assist families in piecing together the childcare they so desperately need? Or is the plan to cover only a portion of a child’s time and leave families to figure out the rest on their own?

Learning Loss: “Our kids are falling behind” is probably the most cited reason to bring them back to school. We all accept that virtual learning has drawbacks in terms of curriculum delivery and that typical in-person teaching corrects that problem. However, we are not returning to typical in-person teaching. Instead, we are phasing in a series of disruptions to instruction. Each new group of students returning to buildings changes the logistics of the building. Staff will have to adapt to the new circumstances with each phase. Any need for quarantine will create more disruptions to in-person instruction. All these disruptions have the potential to negatively affect curriculum delivery. How will you mitigate that enough to prevent further learning loss?

Of even more concern is the fact that the instructional modes are going to change for every student in the county. In order to accommodate classes that simulatenously take place in-person, down the hall in an overflow classroom, and virtually, teachers will have to adapt their instructional methods dramatically. There will be a significant period of adjustment for teachers and students to get comfortable with the new teaching styles. With no time to practice or troubleshoot, there are bound to be missteps. Lesson plans won’t work out. Technology won’t cooperate. Implementing a universal change to instruction doesn’t seem to address the issue to learning loss at all. Quite the opposite, actually.

On a personal note, these changes leave me feeling betrayed on behalf of my children. They have been among the students who were thriving with virtual learning. They want to continue with school as they have been doing it all year and I am in a position to agree to that. However, I expected they would continue to get the same – or better – quality of instruction that they have had all along.

While I believe their teachers and principals are committed to doing right by the 60% of MCPS students who are remaining remote, I have no such faith in the Board or the leadership in the central office.

I honestly don’t know why we are doing this at this point in the school year, expect as a means to facilitate state testing. You haven’t made plans to address the underlying reasons for returning to buildings. You don’t plan to help them manage socialization and mental health struggles. The childcare aspect is insufficient. And instruction may actually be worse in the spring thanks to the massive shift you are expecting of everyone involved.

I would like to support your ideas but so far, you haven’t given me a reason to do so. I hope you alleviate my concerns in the near future.

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