County’s Covid hypocrisy puts our lives at risk

In the beginning of January, at a media briefing with the MCPS Board of Education, county officials announced that all schools would be grouped into three categories based on the presence of Covid-19 in each building. At the bottom of the ranking sat the green section and at the top were schools categorized “red.” These were schools reporting 5% or more of students and faculty testing positive for Covid-19 in the last fourteen days. “Red” schools were supposed to undergo an evaluation by MCPS and the Department of Health and Human Services. From there, students would transition to virtual learning for two weeks. 

To most, this seemed completely reasonable, a way to slow the spread of the virus without shutting down the entire county. But on Sunday Jan. 9 2022 at 2:45 p.m., this entire metric was thrown out the window when the county realized over 100 of its schools had reached the red category. Convenient…

I, like so many other staff and students, am utterly sick of MCPS’s indecisiveness and lack of communication. When the categorical metric was announced, so many of us started shifting our lives around to prepare for a transition to virtual learning. Parents began talking to employers about the possibility of working remotely for a while, teachers briefed students on how to access Canvas lessons and many students began taking precautionary measures to ensure that they had some sort of schedule moving into the two weeks of isolation. We were all ready and in most instances, relieved, to be heading home for class to lessen the spread of the virus. 

In a recent survey that I conducted among WJ’s student body during Omicron’s peak, 80.6% of surveyors felt that going virtual for two weeks was the best option for everyone at the moment. 96.8% of surveyors reported feeling unsafe in this current climate. Why was MCPS putting the complaints of a few parents above the majority?

Furthermore, this went beyond the virus and anxieties that students had over contracting it. There was both a bus driver and substitute teacher shortage spanning the county. Principal Baker frequently sent out lists of buses that would not be available for students daily. For those whose parents rush off to work in the early morning, this meant that the only mode of transportation available was the public bus. Given that the public bus system is incredibly unpredictable, constantly caught up in delays and often much farther away from the homes of students than school buses, this was simply not a long-term solution. 

You know what also wasn’t a long-term solution? Having students take classes in the cafeteria, student commons or library when their teacher evidently got sick and was unable to come to school. 

The fact of the matter is that MCPS was trying to put a bandaid on an issue that needed serious medical attention. If we want to make it out of this year without thousands of sick students and staff members, the Montgomery County Board of Education must respond to Covid spikes responsibly. Creating metrics that are evidently ignored results in mass confusion and a false sense of security. 

We are not in a position to continue as if everything is normal, because it is not. Covid-19 is going to remain in all of our lives for the indefinite future. Unless MCPS acknowledges the climate we are learning in and responds effectively and methodically to crisis, we are all going to suffer.