ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County Public Schools announced Monday that they do not plan to shut down all schools in the county in the midst of a surge of COVID-19 cases, unlike neighboring Prince George's County. MCPS Interim Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Monifa B. McKnight said in the new year, the school system will instead determine several factors before they decide to close a school due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Beginning in January, if 5% or more of students, teachers or staff at a school test positive for COVID-19 -- or a minimum of 10 individuals, within a 14-day period -- the school system will work to determine if that school will be closed for 14 days and transition to virtual learning, Dr. McKnight said. The closure criteria will differ depending on whether an outbreak is contained to a single class or school-wide.
MCPS officials said they plan to seek guidance and will be in accordance with the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services and the Maryland Department of Health. The district said it has seen more student and staff cases in December than in the first three months of the school year combined. But according to officials, positive case rates in MCPS are still one of the lowest in the state of Maryland.
Dr. McKnight said for the 2022 school year, they plan to increase testing and they encourage parents to fill out the COVID-19 testing consent form to make that happen.
"We are a resilient community and we will keep our students safe," said Dr. James Bridgers, acting county health officer for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
They also plan to increase better practices to keep students safe in the classroom. MCPS officials said parents and guardians will continue to receive notifications from schools if there were outbreaks or health concerns.
The school system is also encouraging parents to test their children before they return back to the classroom following any holiday travel, in accordance with CDC guidance.
The Maryland Health Department site is down due to an apparent cyberattack, which has impacted the output of data and data sharing. MCPS officials said that although this has prevented them from doing a deeper analysis of COVID-19 cases, they are working with labs and data they were able to retrieve to get a better data feed for their analysis, said Dr. Bridgers.
On Wednesday, the CEO of Prince George's County Public Schools, Dr. Monica Goldson, announced to the school community that all schools would move to virtual learning starting Monday, Dec. 20. Goldson announced a high of 155 cases reported in a single day compared to a two-day total last week of fewer than 100 cases.
The virtual learning will go through Thursday, Dec. 23, and Winter Break will move forward as scheduled, she said. Virtual learning will then continue into January until in-person learning is set to resume on Jan. 18 following the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, while students in the K-6 Virtual Learning Program will return to classrooms Monday, Jan. 31.
News that schools would revert to virtual learning didn't come as a surprise to some PGCPS parents, but those parents said they hope it doesn't get extended.
The announcement comes after three school buildings in Prince George's County temporarily closed Wednesday while officials worked to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the district.