The school system opened just in time – for students to take Spring Break. “I think it created more consternation in the community than almost anything other than just reopening the schools in general,” said Potomac’s school board member Patricia O’Neill, at last week’s Board of Education meeting, Thursday, March 11.
“We have many lucky parents who are taking their children to Florida, to Utah for skiing, a staff member wrote about going to visit her elderly mother in Massachusetts,” she said. “From the emails we received, there are a lot of people who are moving about the country in general.”
MCPS Spring Break is scheduled for March 29 – April 5. Students have been returning to hybrid and in-person learning in phases starting March 1.
The Board of Education also received “a huge influx of emails” from families and from staff, O’Neill said, “very alarmed” that many families will be travelling. Some families even suggested that the school system reclose the two weeks after, said O’Neill.
“You are on an honor system and we encourage you to educate your children about being honorable, good citizens. So, if you do travel, use common sense, and if you do, you should follow the guidance to have the testing and the quarantining when you come back.
Vice President Karla Silvestre asked everyone to be cautious, to avoid high risk areas, and keep doing the right thing with masking and social distancing, “no matter where you plan to spend it, hopefully at home,” even if you’re staying here in Maryland or Montgomery County,
“We know the drill now, right?” said Silvestre.
Board President Brenda Wolff was straightforward.
“I think people have to accept responsibility for their health and the health of their community and that’s the only way to look at it,” said Wolff.
BEFORE SCHOOLS REOPENED, the school system declared an expectation that people will not travel for spring break in order to prevent getting and spreading Covid.
“Together, we all share an interest in and responsibility for keeping our schools and offices as safe and healthy as possible for all staff and students,” according to a letter MCPS sent to all students and families. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) discourage nonessential travel, asking residents to travel only for essential or emergency reasons, and to restrict or delay travel for tourism or vacation purposes.”
“Students who choose to travel outside of Maryland and its adjacent jurisdictions (Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Washington, D.C.) should take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of returning and self-quarantine while awaiting results,” according to the school system.
“We understand that some families already have plans to leave the area during spring break and that this safety guidance may disrupt their plans. However, we believe taking precautions like this can reduce and limit the possible spread of COVID-19 in our schools. We appreciate your cooperation and we encourage you to spend spring break at home as requested by County Executive Marc Elrich.”
AT THE TIME of the school board meeting on March 11, 11,811 school staff had completed the vaccination process; 25,319 requested.
“This is a very fluid number,” said Helen Nixon, Associate Superintendent, Human Resources and Development.
“The BOE did send a letter to the governor asking for our teachers and all our employees to be considered essential workers,” said Wolff. “We also sent a letter to our county executive as well.”
O’Neill asked how many employees have declined to be vaccinated. Nixon said 1,289 responded to the question worded, “wouldn’t require MCPS to assist them in securing a vaccine.” Staff who were vaccinated elsewhere would also be included in that number.
O’Neill asked for the school system to make its own public service announcement encouraging all employees to be vaccinated for Covid. “It’s so vital and important to our school community” and to Montgomery County, she said.
“I like the idea,” said Dr. Monifa McKnight.
THE BOARD NAMED McKnight as the Interim and Acting School Superintendent when Dr. Jack Smith retires on June 1, 2021.
McKnight currently serves as Deputy Superintendent in MCPS. Prior to this role, she served as the Chief School Management and Instructional Leadership Officer for Howard County Public Schools.
“I thank you for your five years of service to Montgomery County. We will really miss you,” said O’Neill to Smith. “This has been an unbelievable year, unlike any other i’ve known in my 22 years on the Board, or my 12 years as a MCPS parent.”
“Dr. McKnight, I know that you are an incredibly able, capable woman and I know you have been involved in every aspect of MCPS,” she said.
“She brings people along with her who want to work with her and want to do the right kinds of things,” said Judith Docca (District One).
The appointment of Dr. McKnight as acting/interim superintendent is through June 30, 2022, which will provide time for the Board of Education to conduct a national search for the next superintendent. The Board expects to issue a Request for Proposal in the spring to identify an executive search firm by early summer 2021. Once the firm is identified, it will work with the board to develop a timeline for the superintendent search process.
Positive Covid Test at Bells Mill
Parents of Bells Mill Elementary School students received a letter from Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Principal, that between March 8 and March 9, 2021, someone who was present in the school tested positive for Covid-19). “Following Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) guidelines, we notified individuals who were known to have direct contact with this individual and have advised them to quarantine for 14 days,” said the letter of notification.
Per current DHHS guidance and the contact tracing process, unless parents are notified directly, their student does not need to be tested or quarantined because they were not in direct contact with the person who tested positive.
Direct contact is defined as being within approximately 6 feet of an individual with Covid-19 for a prolonged period of time (e.g., being in the same office or classroom as a positive and symptomatic individual); or having direct contact with the infectious secretions from an individual with Covid-19 (e.g., being coughed on).
Parents are asked to monitor their children for symptoms of Covid-19, such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. “If your child develops any of these symptoms, do not send them to school. You should contact your healthcare provider immediately for advice. Please contact the school if your child develops Covid-19-like symptoms. Students who develop symptoms, or test positive for Covid-19, will not be able to return to the building until they are medically cleared.”