Trial and error: MCPS’ COVID-19 protocols fluctuate


WCHS teacher Erin Brown passes out the biweekly MCPS-issued KN-95 masks to her students.

By Jordan Pashkoff, Arts Editor

Going back to in-person school has presented a new set of challenges for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its variants while trying to keep students safe and learning in person can be a challenging task. Approaches to handling this issue are constantly evolving as more is learned about COVID-19 precautions. Whether it is through websites or social media, MCPS and WCHS are attempting to keep staff and students updated with whatever changes are occurring. 

MCPS has changed its policies a few times. The first came at a media briefing on Jan. 4 where MCPS officials announced they would sort schools into three, color-coded categories based on the percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19. The green category featured schools where less than three percent of students and staff tested positive within a 14 day period. Yellow schools fell in between the three to five percent range, and red meant the school had reached or exceeded the five percent threshold of positive results. Schools in the red zone would have the possibility of going virtual for 14 calendar days. MCPS also released an ever-changing list of what category each school was in. On Jan. 5, a new list was released and it showed a majority of the MCPS schools fell in the red category, unlike the previous day where only 11 schools were in the red zone. 

“The 5% threshold was ill-conceived as more than 2/3 of the schools fell within the numbers within 2 days.” AP Psychology and law teacher Jamie Frank said. “It was fairly obvious the county did not have an adequate plan in place for our return.” 

Two days later, on Jan. 7, it was announced in a letter by Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight and Acting Health officer James Bridgers that MCPS would no longer use the five percent threshold. They stated that schools would now be assessed on a case-by-case basis by MCPS and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which they have done since. With this new policy, 16 schools entered 14-day virtual learning on Jan. 20. The letter also promised more safety measures would  be put into place, including distributing KN-95 masks, enhanced ventilation, and increased access to testing. 

“I think we are finally in a better position – with weekly testing, quality masks for everyone, and rapid testing whenever anyone is concerned,” Frank said. “Anyone with symptoms really needs to stay home.”

As part of the promised protocols, WCHS handed out KN-95 masks to staff and students as well as promised to hand them out every two weeks. Every student received a pack of 10 masks. WCHS also handed out rapid antigen COVID-19 tests from iHealth. Teachers received their tests on Fri. Jan 7 and were asked to take them that weekend and students were given theirs the following week. The FDA-approved test package comes with two tests inside and takes only 15 minutes to produce a result. 

“I got my Covid 19 tests on Monday, Jan 10 from my advisory teacher. We were all told to go home and take a test at the end of the day and report back with a positive or negative test to the school,” WCHS sophomore Tessa Merretta said. “I got my KN95 mask in chemistry on Jan 11.” 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their mask guidelines on Jan. 14 to state that N-95, KN-95, and KF-94 respirators provide better protection against COVID-19. As of Jan. 21, Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) is handing out free N95 masks to Montgomery County residents to encourage more people to wear masks and therefore decrease the spread of COVID-19. For more information from the CDC, go to

“It is great that public libraries are handing out N95 masks, just like school is, to the public so they are not hard to track down and aren’t so expensive for people who need them,” Merretta said. “They are very protective and super accessible thanks to the libraries.”  

According to MCPS Health and Safety Procedures, symptomatic students who test positive for COVID-19 have to quarantine for 10 days and self-monitor for 14 days. Students are welcome to come back to school once they are fully asymptomatic. 

“There has been some inconsistency in the messages about staff and Covid,” Frank said. “It has changed multiple times – the most recent has staff quarantining if they test positive.” 

As of Jan. 9, MCPS Health and Safety Procedures state that any staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 has to stay home for five days from the date of symptoms or positive test if asymptomatic. After the five-day quarantine, asymptomatic staff can return as long as they wear a proper mask around others. 

In addition to the recently put in place protocols, MCPS has implemented randomized COVID-19 testing. There are also constant messages to students reminding them to wear their masks over the nose and chin, including the morning announcements during second period. 

“WCHS is doing a pretty good job with masks and testing. Lunch is definitely the biggest risk at school with people taking their masks off to eat, but every person decides what they want to do during that time,” WCHS junior Josh Heimlich said. “It helps that the school enforces mask-wearing when people are walking around or in class.” 

Some ways to access information easily include reading the emails or Instagram posts from our Student Member of the Board, Hana O’Looney, or the emails from Principal John Taylor. All MCPS information regarding Covid-19 can be found on their dashboard

“I try to keep updated with the new Covid rules within the school and the county since they change so frequently,” Heimlich said. “MCPS needs to have a concrete plan so students and staff know what to expect and do as Covid continues.”