Concerns about counterfeit masks, high transmissions rates, and lack of coverage met with silence
The recent community updates from Montgomery County Public Schools have been muddy. There has been a lack of transparent information and no clear move in any direction, except for one: lowering the safety bar for staff and students.
MCPS's commitment to pursue in-person learning has led to lowering the safety bar. The school system is at a point where most schools are working with a skeleton crew. There is enough of a shortage of teachers that security guards, building service personnel, and cafeteria workers have had to step in to cover a class.
Central Office Personnel is supporting individual schools as able, and it has become their number one priority. As principals put in requests for support, Central Office staff are sent to buildings with the most need. However, while they are licensed professionals in their field, not all of them are licensed teachers.
Lowering the safety bar
The school system is so desperate to push their agenda to maintain in-person learning that they have revised their safety guidelines. Instead of quarantining for 10-days after a positive test result for COVID-19, MCPS has shortened the quarantine timeline.
- Staff who test positive or are suspected of having COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status must stay home at least 5 full days from the date of onset of symptoms or positive test.
- After 5 days if there are no symptoms without the aid of fever-reducing medication, the individual can return to work while wearing a well-fitting mask.
After reporting positive test results, teachers are sent letters with their return date, and if they push back because they are symptomatic, they are told to provide a letter of proof.
Where is the accountability for negative test results?
Unlike its neighbor DCPS, MCPS does not require that negative test results be uploaded before returning to school.
Despite schools distributing at-home rapid test kits and strongly urging parents to record test results on a google form, parents are still sending sick children to school. At one school, a child tested positive, and the parent was unable to pick up the child from school. Instead, the child was isolated from his peers while babysat all day by a staff member. He then took the bus home unmasked. At another school, a child handed his teacher his positive test kits at the end of the day after spending all day at school.
There is little accountability, and principals have to spend extra time pulling students out of class when made aware of a positive case. There is little time to get down to the task of educating students. Most teachers and staff spend their time with COVID tracing, managing, and covering classes for one another.
On Monday, January 10th, teachers were provided with KN95 masks. However, after some investigation, some concerns are that the provided masks are counterfeit. One source shared that the KN95 masks given to teachers are on the FDA non-approved list. According to another source, the CDC tested the second set of KN95 masks that were handed to staff and students, and they have less than 45% filtration.
Eric Herboso wrote a Reddit post outlining why the counterfeit KN95 masks distributed to MCPS “are not necessarily bad, but the company who created them have falsified NIOSH Approved status in the past.”
The masks given by MCPS are stamped with GB2626-2006, an older standard, which has been replaced with GB2626-2019. Therefore, if you have GB2626-2006 stamped on your mask, you may not have a legitimate KN95 mask.
The CDC provides more guidance on how to spot a counterfeit mask.
It begs the question, did MCPS not do their homework when ordering the masks? How can one expect trust from a school system who is willing to sacrifice the health and safety of staff and students so that they proclaim, “At least we didn’t close schools!” And by the way, school buildings close, not education.
With a temporary virtual model in place, students still receive instruction. However, at a time when there are bus driver shortages, classroom teacher shortages, and the lack of access to the virtual quarantine classroom provided by the county, it is time to say, what is in place is not equitable.
Parents are asking questions
Parents are asking questions and are not getting answers from MCPS
- My children’s school have a 12.1% transmission rate, when does the school transition to virtual learning?
- Why can’t we require weekly testing like PG County?
- Why aren’t we asking for proof of negative tests before staff and students return to school?
- Why can’t we require KN95 masks be worn?
- How are we mitigating the spread of the virus during super spreader events like maskless lunch?
There are too many questions and not enough answers. Parents, teachers, staff, and students are sharing their frustration.
To what end has MCPS lowered the safety bar on education to push forward that in-person learning? Is instruction happening with a skeleton staff and students having coverage, but not lessons? What will be the long-term detriment to the staff morale and student learning?
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.