- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2021

The Montgomery County Public Schools system opened its doors Monday for children in kindergarten through third grade, providing the first day of face-to-face instruction this academic year to nearly 20,000 students.

About 800 students in special education, career and technical education, and alternative programs were allowed to return for in-person classes in Montgomery County on March 1, meeting Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide push for in-person options amid the coronavirus pandemic.

School system spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala told The Washington Times that it has been a “successful transition” so far.

Kevin Dougherty, a spokesman for Together Again MCPS, a coalition of community stakeholders advocating for reopening schools, said it was exciting to have at least one of his kids back in school, but wants the district to speed up the process.

“It’s great that K through 3 is back today, even though it’s long overdue,” Mr. Dougherty told The Times. “But we can’t get distracted by how great today is when we realized that 70% of the school system is still hostage to their computer screens For many of these students, it’s still weeks and weeks away before they can return.”

Both Mr. Dougherty, the father of a third-grader and a fifth-grader, and Margery Smelkinson, another parent spokesperson for Together Again MCPS, said it was a bit of a mixed reaction when only some of their children got to go to school on Monday.

“I have four kids, three have gone back today,” Ms. Smelkinson said. “[The eldest] was very, very sad. The other ones were getting their backpacks ready and picking out their outfits It’s very lonely to be at home.”

The next wave of students in the phase 1 category will come back on April 6. This group will include students in pre-K, grades 4-6, grade 12 and other specific special education programs. MCPS is aiming to bring grades 8, 9 and 11 back on April 19 and grades 7 and 10 on April 26.

Prince George’s County Public Schools, however, won’t move to a hybrid model of in-person and online instruction until April.

In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam last month directed all school districts in the state to offer some in-person options by Monday.

“It’s been hard on children, and it’s been hard on our teachers,” Mr. Northam said at the time. “But we also know this plain fact. Children learn better in classrooms. And that’s where they need to be.”

As of Monday, 128 school divisions are offering some level of in-person instruction, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Of that, 37 divisions have all students attending for at least four days, and 51 have that option available for some students while the rest are hybrid.

Thirty-one districts have all students attending in a hybrid model with none reaching the four-day threshold.

Only four school districts — Richmond, Manassas, Portsmouth and Sussex — are offering online only instruction. Manassas will bring some students back on Tuesday, and the other divisions will start bringing groups back in April.

Public schools Alexandria are set to move to a two-day hybrid model for all students pre-K through 12th grade starting Tuesday.

Arlington Public Schools began welcoming students back in groups for two days a week in early March. The next group — grades 7-8 and 10-12 — is set to join that reopening process on Tuesday.

Fairfax County Public Schools has welcomed back about 38,000 students for two full days in waves since March 9. It is set to bring back an additional 27,000 students Tuesday in grades 3rd through 6th who had chosen in-person classes.

Meanwhile, the District began its Term 3 reopening on Feb. 1, with a range of in-person options for students.

On Monday, the D.C. Department of Health issued an updated school guidance that removed restrictions for middle school and high school sports, and removed the 12-person cap on cohort sizes in classrooms.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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