ROCKVILLE, MD — As COVID-19 cases have spiked statewide, leaders in Maryland's largest school district have delayed the timeline for letting students back into classrooms.
The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to push back the start of in-person learning from Jan. 12 to Feb. 1.
Under plans adopted Tuesday by the school board, students can return to their classrooms once two public health benchmarks are met: the 14-day positivity rate does not exceed 5 percent and the 14-day average for new cases per 100,000 residents falls below 15.
This approach, according to Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith, would allow more students to return in phases.
If health conditions allow, students in kindergarten to third grade, as well as some students in career and special education programs, would be the first to return to school.
Before Tuesday's vote, MCPS planned to bring back students in three smaller phases — with priority given only to students in certain career and special education programs.
The school board will meet on Jan. 12 to decide whether they should reopen schools on Feb. 1.
Citing a countywide surge in COVID-19 cases, board member Patricia O'Neill said it's unlikely that the county will meet the public health benchmarks by Jan. 12.
"We are still, as a county, on that upward trajectory from Thanksgiving, and Christmas is 10 days away," O'Neill said on Tuesday. "It is highly unlikely that we are going to suddenly turn that corner and be at the 15 cases per 100,000 between now and Jan. 12."
On Tuesday, school officials said the test positivity rate was 6.2 and the average number of new cases per 100,000 residents was just shy of 42.