COVID-19 outbreak leads county to freeze grades, cancel athletics

SMOB+Nate+Tinbite+and+Montgomery+County+Chief+Health+Officer+Travis+Gayles+urged+students+to+avoid+large+groups+and+practice+social+distancing.+

Screenshot courtesy Nate Tinbite

SMOB Nate Tinbite and Montgomery County Chief Health Officer Travis Gayles urged students to avoid large groups and practice social distancing.

By Anna Yuan, Walt Whitman High School

After State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced yesterday that all Maryland public schools will close for the next two weeks due to COVID-19, Montgomery County officials stated today that student grades will freeze, effective March 16 through March 27, prohibiting teachers from inputting graded assignments after March 15. Students will not be learning new material in the next two weeks; instead, MCPS has provided instructional materials for all grade levels and classes meant for review and practice on their contingency webpage. MCPS will provide hard copies of these materials at a later date. The county has also provided links for AP and IB class resources.

Additionally, teachers aren’t allowed to enter grades or require students to turn in these materials after students return to school; teachers also may not schedule any tests or graded assignments for the week students are expected to return from the closure, an MCPS email to staff said.

“I want to emphasize that there are no loopholes in the MCPS expectation that NO new learning, assignments, projects, etc. can be expected of students during the two-week closure,” Principal Robert Dodd wrote in an email to all Whitman staff members today.

MCPS officials are consulting with union leaders to determine what calendar adjustments they need to make to the third marking period. Officials say they will unveil an initial plan Tuesday, March 17th.

Maryland law requires that all public schools have a minimum of 180 instructional days each year. MCPS’ 2019-20 school year calendar includes 182 days of instruction, and MCPS has already closed once this year for inclement weather. MCPS superintendent Jack Smith, in a press conference Thursday, did pull back on state government recommendations that spring break be used for makeup days, indicating that MCPS is considering a variety of options in addition to spring break. 

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has canceled all team practices through March 30 and all athletic contests until the first available play date April 6. It also urged all teams to reconsider large contests that include out-of-state opponents or more than 250 people. After March 30, teams will be unable to practice until their respective school systems authorize them to do so, the MPSSAA said in their press release.

In an email to all spring sports coaches today, Whitman Athletic Director Andy Wetzel wrote that “there should not be voluntary team activities of any kind,” including “meetings, practices, captains practices, get-togethers, informal meetups, offsite practices, etc.”

For students who rely on the Free and Reduced-price Meals program, MCPS will operate 20 sites to provide “Grab-N-Go” meals for students Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students must be under 18 years old to receive meals, but they don’t need to present ID.

This afternoon, Student Member of the Board Nate Tinbite held a Q&A session with Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight and released a video with Montgomery County Chief Health Officer Travis Gayles. During both, Tinbite urged students to follow Governor Larry Hogan’s orders during his press conference yesterday regarding avoiding large groups and practicing social distancing. 

Gayles also shared steps that all community members should use to help stop the spread of COVID-19, like avoiding mass gatherings, non-essential travel and people who are sick. Individuals who believe that they have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their personal healthcare provider, he said.

“We may not have all the answers to the questions, but we can do our part,” Tinbite said in the video. “This is a serious health crisis, and we’ve got to do our part to stop the spread of this virus. Let’s be good to one another, take care of each other and show that we care about the impact this crisis has on all residents of the county.”

We will continue to provide updates on the COVID-19 outbreak.

For more information on the COVID-19 pandemic, please refer to these resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

Maryland Department of Health

Montgomery County Public Schools

Montgomery County Department of Disease Control and Epidemiology — 240-777-1755

Maryland Department of Health and Infectious diseases — 410-767-6700

This story was originally published on The Black & White on March 13, 2020.