- The Washington Times - Monday, August 31, 2020

It was a first day of school like no other: Thousands of D.C.-area students replaced backpacks and bus rides with logins and video screens Monday to start the academic year with remote learning.

Public schools in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties opened with online-only instruction due to safety concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

“This school year we are ‘virtually together,’” Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said Monday. “We are embarking on new territory, and I am confident that our students and teachers will face this challenge head-on.”

Students log in to online platforms for about six hours of instruction each weekday. Student schedules include live instruction and remote independent working time.

Montgomery County officials acknowledged some technical issues Monday.

“Many other districts in the United States will be starting up their virtual learning models as well. This increased demand will likely challenge many online systems including Canvas (myMCPS Classroom), Synergy, Zoom, and other educational programs including LearnZillion, StudySync, and more,” Montgomery County Public Schools said on its website.

“MCPS staff received numerous updates from our instructional technology partners and they have all worked diligently to ramp up their capacity to ensure a smooth start to school.”

A handful of Prince George’s County public schools experienced network connectivity issues Monday, according to school system spokeswoman Raven Hill.

D.C. Public Schools reported families experiencing some challenges with logging onto their student’s online platforms.

In preparation for the online term, many school systems distributed tech devices and have added resources to help students and parents.Prince George’s schools have set up nine parent support centers to assist with technology, online platforms and other issues. The school-based centers will be open by appointment Mondays and Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The District has expanded its mental health hotline, which supports those experiencing stress during COVID-19, offers help for affected families and connects parents with school-based clinicians and early childhood specialists, said Barbara Bazron, director of the city’s behavioral health department. The department also will launch an online support network, Wellness Wednesdays, for parents beginning Wednesday.

The District plans to add another tech hotline number to address demand, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday at a press conference.Meals are still being distributed at some schools in the District and Maryland suburbs for students eligible for free and reduced-priced meals.School officials for the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have indicated they might consider reopening schools after the first academic term, possibly using a hybrid of in-person and online instruction.

Last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said all county school systems can safely reopen amid the pandemic, making the announcement less than a week before the first day of instruction.

Montgomery County officials pushed back Saturday on the governor’s announcement.

“Montgomery County, like other school districts in the State, spent months planning for opening the school year virtually. It did consider a hybrid in-person and virtual learning approach, but after reviewing the situation and consulting with public health experts and others, decided to teach virtually,” County Executive Marc Elrich and county council members said in a statement. “We are dismayed and perplexed that Governor Hogan made this announcement just days before students return to school … We understand the importance of getting our kids back in the classroom, but how we do that has far reaching implications for the entire community.”

There are 165,000 students and 24,000 staff in the Montgomery County Public School system, according to the statement. The District’s public schools have more than 51,000 students and 4,000 teachers. Prince George’s County public schools have more than 136,000 students and 20,000 staff.

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