MCPS Not Likely to Begin Return to School Buildings in February 2021 As Planned (Bethesda Magazine)

Excerpts below from the Bethesda Magazine article ‘Will MCPS begin return to school buildings as planned in February? Not likely.‘ (January 6, 2021).

In December [2020], the Montgomery County Board of Education gave its stamp of approval to a plan outlining students’ return to schools. It was a glimmer of hope for families whose children have been taking classes from home for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Feb. 1, [2021] the first group of students would return to classrooms for the first time since March 13, according to the approved timeline, but that plan grows less likely as the number of COVID-19 cases in the county swells.

Since early November [2020], each of the key COVID-19 metrics MCPS is tracking to guide its reopening plan have gotten worse. Each is higher than the maximum threshold to bring the first group of students back to a building.

Absent an unexpected reversal of the trend, or a change to the metrics set to guide MCPS reopening, buildings will not reopen as planned next month.

“I’m incredibly pessimistic,” longtime school board member Pat O’Neill said on Wednesday [Jan. 6, 2021]. “The first thing I do when I get up every day is look at the numbers in The Washington Post and Bethesda Beat, and what I see, every day, is truly alarming and scary.”

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said during a call with reporters on Wednesday [Jan. 6, 2021] that it will be challenging, at best, to reach the MCPS reopening metrics by Feb. 1 [2021].

And, despite school employees being prioritized in Phase 1B of the state and county vaccination plans, Gayles said it’s unlikely a significant number of MCPS staff members — totaling about 24,000 — will have been vaccinated by February.

Asked whether he would recommend the school district begin its transition to in-person classes, Gayles declined to give a direct answer. Instead, he said health officials will “continue conversations” with MCPS.

On Nov. 26 [2020], Montgomery County reported a case rate of 26.7 per 100,000 residents. Two weeks later, the rate spiked to its highest level of the pandemic: 45 — three times the threshold for the return to schools to begin.

Local data already seem to be hinting at a repeat performance after Christmas.

On Dec. 25 [2020], the case rate was 37.3, an increase following a notable drop between Dec. 16 and Dec. 20.

By Wednesday [Jan. 6, 2021], the rate had increased to 41.8.

The county’s 14-day average test positivity rate (7.8%) — which has to dip below 5% for schools to reopen — is the highest it’s been since June 19 [2020].

It has been above 5% since Nov. 18.

The school board is scheduled to meet on Jan. 12 [2021], in part to decide if reopening is feasible. Staff reports were not yet available on Wednesday [Jan. 6, 2020].