MCPS teachers torn on returning to in person learning

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Courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools

MCPS’s new health metric matrix helps sent baselines for the possibility of the return to in-person learning

By Liam Klein, Assistant Online Editor

Montgomery County Public Schools recently released the list of requirements that must be met before in-person learning can resume. All of this comes as we slowly inch closer to the date of February 1st when MCPS planned to resume in-person learning. Md. and the US overall are experiencing their worst spikes in coronavirus cases ever. Just over a month ago, there were an estimated 491 coronavirus cases in the state of Maryland and that number has since risen to almost 3,000. With all this in mind is returning to in-person learning on February 1st a real possibility?

As of right now, safety should be the number one priority, but the importance of students’ academic growth cannot be ignored. For some, online learning is not doing the job. Out of a poll of 106 students, 58 percent said that it was significantly harder to learn online, while only five percent said there was no difference between online learning and in-person learning. The remaining 37 percent felt that it depends on the specific class. 

“I feel online classes aren’t as effective as in-person classes for most students,” said WCHS Algebra teacher Hsinyu Ho “It is not surprising that in-person courses are more effective. Being in person with teachers and other students can help motivate students to focus and engage.” 

“It certainly has its limitations, but I think it’s really the next best thing. I don’t know if hybrid learning will be much more effective. Most of the instruction will still be virtual and I have a feeling the in-person learning will move at a pretty slow pace considering we will only be seeing small groups of students at a time,” added WCHS 9th grade English teacher Mary Dempsey. 

However, just because online learning does not seem to be doing enough for some students and teachers does not mean we should rush to return to in-person learning. 

“I personally do not believe it makes sense for my family to send my two boys back to Churchill this school year,” the head of PTA, Carla Morris said.“ With COVID cases rising rapidly in a steep upward curve, combined with the flu season just about to get underway in the midst of COVID this winter, I don’t think it makes sense to push that health envelope and tempt fate.” 

While some parents are being cautious and feel that the return to in-person learning should not be rushed, a majority of parents want in-person learning to return promptly. 

“The majority of parents I hear from seem to want their kids back in school.  The majority of kids want to be back in school, but there are a fair number of parents who for all sorts of reasons feel the way I personally do, that it does not seem feasible from a public health perspective to risk it.”

It seems that a majority of students do want to return to in-person learning, as 36 percent of students estimated they would return to in-person learning on Feb. 1, 2021, if given the opportunity, and 54 percent said they would return with adequate safety measures in place. A meager 10 percent said they would not return to in-person learning by Feb. 1, 2021, no matter what.

Students and parents are eager for the return of in-person learning. There is one important part of the equation missing: teachers. Some are willing to return, a majority are quite the opposite. 

“I haven’t heard a single teacher express an interest in continuing online learning unless it is absolutely necessary,” Morris said “ I don’t think any teachers are thrilled with this situation. I also don’t think many teachers see going back to school full-time this school year, hybrid or not, as a viable option, unless under extremely limited circumstances for a small, select population of children who are severely struggling.”

One of the main reasons that teachers are not eager to return is a concern about how strict rules and restrictions will be followed. 

“Not everyone will follow safety measures. It is going to be very difficult to maintain a healthy environment and healthy procedures/operations among teachers and students” said Ho. 

Out of the 106 students who responded to a poll,  an astounding 83 percent said that they had little to no trust, only trusting certain individuals to follow the safety guidelines as themselves.  

“We must consider the size of the student body, the ability to divide students into smaller cohorts, and the physical condition of the school building,” Ho said, “If possible, dividing students into smaller classes could help minimize the number of people each student and teacher comes into contact with during a school day.” 

Even if everyone followed the guidelines there are still a few possible problems such as crowded classrooms. According to an article published by the Churchill Observer on October 21st of 2019, the average class size at WCHS was around 26 students but some classes had up to 40 students. This could become a problem as Montgomery County recommends 113 square feet for every one person. 

“If most families want to return to in-person learning, then I don’t think it will be possible. However, if a good portion of parents want their children to continue virtual learning then there will be plenty of room for those students who do come in-person,” said Dempsey. 

There is a glimmer of hope with pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and BioNTech claiming their coronavirus vaccines are 95 percent effective and have no safety concerns. According to the CDC, adults should be able to get vaccinated later in 2021, but a COVID-19 vaccine may not be available for young children until more studies are completed.”

The importance of the health and safety of teachers, students, and their families cannot be underestimated. On the other hand, neither can the importance of learning and growth of students. There needs to be a balance between putting learning first and safety at risk, or putting safety first and learning at risk. 

For more information about coronavirus in Montgomery County and MCPS’s baselines for returning to in-person learning visit https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/coronavirus/dashboard/.