Prince George’s County Public Schools to reopen virtually
By Sophie Gorman Oriani
On July 15, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) announced that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020-2021 school year will start virtually.
“There is a significant public health concern if schools were to reopen this fall for in-person instruction,” said a July 15 PGCPS press release. Prince George’s County has been the hardest hit county in the state, with over 23,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19.
In a July 15 interview, Dr. Monica Goldson, the CEO of PGCPS, stressed her concern for the health and safety of the over 150,000 PGCPS students and employees. She said the State of Maryland would have permitted PGCPS students to attend school in person “if I could have figured out how to do it safely.” According to Gabrielle Brown, the PGCPS media relations director, 27% of PGCPS staff is in a high-risk category for COVID-19.
Parents’ responses to the PGCPS decision have varied. Karma Foley, whose child is entering kindergarten at Cesar Chavez Elementary School, called the decision to go virtual “the best … and the most responsible choice to make, given the circumstances.” Kristen Wares, who has a preschooler and a rising second-grader at Hyattsville Elementary School, said that although she was “very emotional” when she heard the news, “[being virtual] will allow us all to plan for the likely reality that between flu season and holiday travel, the pandemic is likely to still be a concern for at least the first two quarters of the school year.”
Foley and her husband have been flexing their schedules to provide childcare for their son, and they intend to continue this arrangement. They have considered trying to form a learning pod with another family to share the responsibilities of distance learning, but Foley noted, “It feels beyond my mental capacity right now to try and plan something like that.”
Jennifer Weber, who works as an emergency room nurse, called the decision to do distance learning until January “pretty drastic” and added, “It feels like [people who have to work outside the home have] been forgotten.” Weber has been trying to form a learning cooperative with other families, but she wishes PGCPS had offered a hybrid option. She is also concerned about the amount of required screen time her 5-year-old twins will have.
According to the Fall 2020 Reopening Plan Summary, which PGCPS published online July 25, students will receive live daily lessons, with extra support provided for English language learners and special needs students. “We’ve built in 30-minute lessons at the elementary level every day around providing socioemotional support,” noted Brown. “At the secondary level, it’ll be immersed throughout the content areas.” Interscholastic sports have been suspended until further notice.
The full-time distance learning option will remain for parents who choose it for the second semester. PGCPS hopes to be able to transition to a hybrid staggered schooling option for the third quarter, which will start in February. This schedule would involve two days of in-person learning and three days of distance learning.
New this school year are parent support centers, which will open Sept. 1 at nine PGCPS schools. These centers are designed to support parents with “tech support and other needs, such as navigating aspects of distance learning or accessing instructional packets,” according to the Fall 2020 Reopening Plan Summary. Each student will receive a Chromebook or iPad to facilitate distance learning, and families who need one can also receive a Wi-Fi hotspot.
“While this is not the school year we could have imagined, I am still looking forward to upholding a learning and working environment where students, employees and families can thrive. We will get through this together and come out of this stronger,” wrote Goldson in the press release.
Registration is open online for kindergarten and pre-K at pgcps.org/registration. Pre-K spots are still available to those that meet income eligibility requirements. For help registering, contact your local school.