No more room for students, quarantined virtual classes maxed out

Heather Jauquet

MCPS staff shortages by the numbers for Tuesday, January 12th

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Zoom class in sessionChris Montgomery/Unsplash

Schools across Montgomery County are asking, “When is it enough?” It’s all about the numbers. Montgomery County Public Schools’ Interim Superintendent, Dr. Monifa McKnight provided a guiding threshold to move schools to virtual. Within two days, there was a move to remove the threshold with a promise to monitor schools closely. Schools across the county are still waiting to hear guidance when high transmission rates cause individual classes to quarantine, as teachers call out sick, and classes are combined and shuffled to the cafeteria when there are not enough adults to provide class coverages.

By Tuesday morning, the quarantined virtual classrooms provided by MCPS had maxed out. The virtual classrooms are held via Zoom with teachers across the county taking turns to teach the classes. Currently, virtual classes can hold 300 students. Within a week of students returning from winter break, the virtual classrooms have become full, and students cannot log in as the virtual class has reached capacity.

The following information was given to parents on Wednesday night, “If you have a student accessing regional quarantine instruction for tomorrow, please note that the anticipated enrollment exceeds the current capacity of our Zooms.”

MCPS is working to accommodate the growing number of quarantined students starting next week. 

The quarantine classrooms are not the same classes as the Virtual Academy which MCPS provided for students who would not be returning in-person all year. Instead, the quarantine virtual classrooms allow students to access the county’s curriculum while in isolation or quarantine. Then, when their 10 days of quarantine are over, they may go back to their class in person.

However, it appears it is getting increasingly more difficult for students in both settings to receive adequate curriculum instruction. For in-person students, their teacher may be out sick, and colleagues may be providing coverage. And quarantine classes may be full and are unable to accommodate extra learners. 

MCPS is staying with the in-person model to continue pursuing a rich and quality education. However, with coverage provided by a rotating carousel of adults, are students receiving any curriculum instruction?

“When a school has an outbreak of eight classrooms causing then to be quarantined, it’s time to transition to virtual instruction for two weeks.” —Concerned community member in response to the Strawberry Knoll Elementary School’s 12.1% positivity rate.

A staff member shared that students are scared as a whole. Some students are choosing not to participate in their sport right now because of the fear of spreading it to their families or getting themselves sick. School teams are missing several players. Parents are asking for winter sports to be paused indefinitely as fear, anxiety, and stress is too much for students right now. 

The information regarding staff absences and coverage has been provided anonymously. Important to note is that class coverage does not necessarily mean that curriculum is taught. It means that an adult is in a room supervising the students.  

Blair High School: Absences—22 staff members. 1 substitute

Gaithersburg Elementary School—Absences: 5 classroom teachers, 4 support teachers, 3 paraeducators, 2 building service workers, 1 office staff. Rapid test kits were distributed to students on Tuesday. There were 27 positive cases over night. 

Lakeland Parks Middle School—Absences: 32 Teachers/staff

Montgomery Village Middle School—Absences: 9 teachers and 3 paraeducators. 1 substitute teacher. 1 Central Office Personnel. 

Paint Branch High School—Absences: 23 staff leading to 16 uncovered jobs, which means that 80 classes are without coverage. 6 bus routes are not running. On Tuesday, 50 students were quarantined, in addition to the 90 students and 16 staff who were quarantined on Monday. It is important to note that middle school and high school teachers teach 5 classes and about 150 students a day. When an upper-grade level teacher is absent, they need a substitute for every class. 

Poolesville High School—Students are organizing a walkout on Wednesday. According to a message sent to the community, “Students will be demonstrating to support appropriate mask-wearing practices to keep our community healthy and safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Strawberry Knoll Elementary Schools—Absences 10 teachers. 2 Substitutes. Strawberry Knoll is waiting for guidance from the state after reaching the second-highest COVID-19 positivity rate in Montgomery County and has 8 quarantined classes. Parents are having trouble accessing the quarantined virtual classrooms because the classrooms have reached their maximum capacity of 300 students.

Viers Mill Elementary School—Quarantined Classes: 3 kindergarten classrooms, 1 first grade classroom, Headstart class, 2 PEP classes, Morning Pre-K class. There was no bus on Monday for the afternoon Pre-K class. Instead, parents drove or walked their students to school. There was no school bus on Tuesday, and only 2 Pre-K children arrived.

Twinbrook Elementary School—Absences: 9 teachers, NO substitutes.

Julius West Middle School—75 students are on the COVID-19 list.

This article is a multi-part series on how MCPS is handling the pandemic in its school system.

Heather Jauquet has a Masters degree as a Reading Specialist from Johns Hopkins University. She holds a highly qualified certification to teach grades 1-8 and specialized reading instruction for grades K-12.

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Certified educator K-12 and Reading Specialist with a focus on the adolescent brain. I write about how educational decisions affect parents, students, and staff. As an educator and parent I also focus on community events for the whole family.

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