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Prince George’s students return to virtual learning amid ‘stark rise’ in covid cases

Maryland county is first system in D.C. area to return to remote education this fall

Monica E. Goldson, chief executive of Prince George’s County Public Schools, shown in April, announced the return to virtual learning on Dec. 17. (Robb Hill for The Washington Post)

Students in Prince George’s County will switch from in-person classes to virtual learning until mid-January as coronavirus cases surge and schools in the Washington region increasingly restrict student activities.

Monica E. Goldson, the chief executive in Maryland’s second-largest school system, announced the change Friday afternoon, citing a “stark rise” in cases as she laid out a plan for students to return to in-person classes Jan. 18, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The decision marks the first major shift of the school year to remote instruction by a large public school system in the D.C. area — and likely a disappointment to parents who had hoped for more of a traditional learning experience for 2021-2022.

But, in recent days, some school systems have reported a significant jump in infections. Earlier this week, Goldson had called the trend alarming, saying that a week earlier that the two-day total was fewer than 100 cases, compared to this week’s high of 155 cases in one day.

As covid surges, D.C.-area schools cancel activities and go virtual again

She said educators and others in schools “must be able to deliver in-person instruction and other activities in conditions that prioritize their own health, as well as the well-being of the school community. The increased positivity rates have significantly challenged the ability to do so, causing anxiety among many school communities and disruption to the school day.”

Prince George’s previously had suspended in-person instruction at two middle schools and a charter school.

According to the plan Goldson outlined Friday on the school system’s website, Prince George’s students will move to virtual learning next week, from Dec. 20 to Dec. 23. Winter break will follow, ending Jan. 2, after which students will again return to virtual instruction from Jan. 3 to Jan. 14.

Students who have been enrolled in a virtual program throughout the fall will remain in remote mode through Jan. 31.

Other local systems have sent classes, grade levels or individual schools home. Late Wednesday, D.C. Public Schools moved Whittier Elementary School back to virtual learning until after the holiday break, making it the first public school in the District to do so this academic year. Private schools in D.C. and Maryland, including Georgetown Preparatory School and Sidwell Friends, have also closed classrooms.

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At least for now, Prince George’s is an outlier in its systemwide closure. But other Maryland counties enacted fresh restrictions this week in response to covid surges and fears of the omicron variant.

Montgomery County’s school system announced Friday that it will halt in-person, nonathletic extracurricular activities outside the school day starting Monday and lasting through Jan. 7. Athletic practices and games can continue into next week, but during the winter break, from Dec. 23 through Jan. 2, games will be canceled, with optional practices allowed.

That move follows Howard County’s decision Wednesday to suspend its own sports contests, concerts, plays and other extracurricular activities, citing cases that were surging at an “alarming rate.”

Northern Virginia counties have not taken such steps, although they have canceled some sporting events. A spokeswoman for Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school system, said Friday that officials there “are watching our numbers closely but are holding steady at this point.”

Hannah Natanson and Nicole Asbury contributed to this report.

More on local education

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K-12 classrooms: The Montgomery County school system is revisiting safety training after a report of a student with a gun led to a campus lockdown. New safety protocols also are in the works in D.C. after a bus driver crashed a bus and was charged with a DUI. A settlement in a public records lawsuit reveals some of the emails submitted to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s education tip line.

On campus: The University of Maryland has pledged to expand aid for in-state students who have significant financial need. What the twists, turns and drops of roller coasters are teaching Johns Hopkins University students about engineering.