Montgomery County Public Schools Drops COVID-19 Policy Days After Introducing It

The school system will no longer use the 5% threshold to consider virtual learning

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Montgomery County Public Schools will no longer consider virtual learning for every school that has 5% or more COVID-19 cases, but will instead make the decision for virtual learning on a case-by-case basis, the superintendent announced Friday.

The news comes a day after the school system said online that more than 10,000 students and staff reported testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. MCPS went from having 11 schools in its "red" category to 126.

A school was designated "red" if 5% or more of its students and staff tested positive for COVID in a 14-day period, according to a policy Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight announced Tuesday. McKnight said school officials would work with the county health department to determine if red schools should transition to virtual learning.

But by Friday, the school system walked back that rule.

More than 100 public schools in Montgomery County are in the red category with a concerning amount of COVID-19 cases. News4's Darcy Spencer reports.

"The state of Maryland does not currently recommend any automatic trigger or threshold for the suspension of in-person learning," McKnight said in a statement. "Therefore, MCPS will no longer use a threshold of 5% or more of unrelated students and staff in a school who test positive in a 14-day period to consider a transition to virtual learning."

McKnight said the school system will work with health officials to examine schools on a case-by-case basis and they will continue to consider the following factors:

  • Number of students and staff who test positive
  • Number of students in quarantine
  • Number of staff COVID-19 absences
  • Level of virus' spread in the school
Montgomery County Public School students will not be required to show a negative COVID-19 test to return to school next week, but the school system said it will distribute rapid tests to every student soon. News4's Jackie Bensen reports.

The 11 schools initially classified as red on Tuesday were directed to switch to virtual. McKnight said those schools would receive more information by Sunday afternoon about next steps.

"We have heard from families, students and staff and recognize that the pandemic’s changing landscape continues to generate concern for many community members," McKnight said in the statement to the MCPS community. "These modifications result from clarifications from the state of Maryland on the appropriate use of thresholds for transitioning to virtual learning – and bring MCPS into closer alignment with how large school systems across the country are keeping schools safe amidst similar COVID-related challenges."

"Schools are, like, empty. Everybody's testing positive. So, it's like what’s the point of being there if it's going to be, like, barely any teachers, not enough subs, and students aren’t even coming," a senior at Paint Branch High School told News4 Thursday.

The school system's color-coded system to keep track of COVID-19 cases also showed dozens of schools in the "yellow" category on Thursday, which meant more than 3% of students and staff tested positive, but less than 5%.

"I think the kids should stay home because we don’t have the situation under control," one Montgomery County resident told News4 on Thursday.

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