School officials expect a longer, more robust school day for students who do remote learning, with more live instruction from teachers. Younger students may see different approaches than high school students.
Multiple scenarios under consideration blend distance and in-person instruction: maybe two days a week on campus with three days of remote learning, or a rotation of every other week. Or a scenario that brings students into buildings for half-days. There may be differences for students in special education.
A central question, said Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight, is: “Who is it most important to have in the building as often as possible, and what does that look like?”
School officials said they know parents want more information as soon as possible — and they should know a lot more in the next few weeks.
“We’re going to have to say, around the middle of July, this is what the first day of school is going to look like because parents, staff members, everyone, needs to plan,” said Superintendent Jack R. Smith.
Smith said there would be some level of choice involved in the system’s plan. Some students may have underlying conditions or may have family members who are vulnerable, or a family may simply be too anxious, he said.
“We’re not going to argue with people about their rationale for why they choose not to come back into a brick-and-mortar school right now,” Smith said.
School officials emphasized that their decision-making is being driven by guidance from health officials and the physical capacity of the system’s 208 schools.
The state has also issued some requirements, including that all school systems teach to Maryland’s college- and career-ready standards in all content areas, in all grades.
“This will require a fuller, more robust schedule, modeling the school day,” said Janet Wilson, interim chief of schools.
The complexities are considerable, Wilson said. “The social distancing requirement alone will bring a whole new dimension of on-site management of student movement, from the time they arrive at school to dismissal,” Wilson said. She showed three video clips of what social distancing could look like for students — on a school bus, in a classroom and in a hallway line to use the restroom.
School buses are likely to be limited to 11 students each, and desks widely spaced in marked areas. There would be no shared bucket of crayons or supplies in elementary school classes and no side-by-side paired desks for student collaboration.
School officials said if a novel coronavirus case is diagnosed, it could mean than the school or some group of schools — or the entire system — would need to shift into remote learning exclusively.
Board members acknowledged the difficulties ahead. Rebecca Smondrowski said the video clips made her wonder how it would all be done. Her voice choked with emotion at one point.
“I know there are so many parents out there who want us to get back into full gear, and I want that for our kids and I want that for our families, but I don’t know how that’ll work,” she said.
Christopher Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said Tuesday that labor unions have been involved in discussions about the fall reopening in Montgomery and that the superintendent has told union leaders that educators will be able to choose whether they want to work from home or school, like students. So long as that is true, he said, he does not expect the kind of teacher uprising that Fairfax County has experienced.
School officials have done surveys as they have been working on fall plans, and have received 30,000 responses, from parents and others in the community. A second survey presenting options for family-specific decisions will go out later in July.
The first test of what in-person learning may look like could come in the final weeks of summer programs, when some students may go back into schools in small groups. School officials said the return of even small groups of students depends on health guidance, especially given spikes of the virus in some states.
The school board voted to extend the contracts of its labor unions for an additional month, while teachers and school system officials continue to negotiate.