PGCPS CEO Dr. Monica Goldson promised that the system would not be reopening for in-person learning prior to Feb. 1 at the earliest. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer

Less than a week after reaching an agreement to rebuild several new buildings, Prince George’s County Schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson promised that the system would not be reopening for in-person learning prior to Feb. 1, at the earliest. 

“We have no plans to reopen before February,” Dr. Goldson said in a teleconference on Oct. 28. “We still have to monitor numbers. I can’t say that that’s a firm, set date, but that is our plan right now.”

This decision is consistent with Prince George’s County Public Schools’ plans to try and phase out distance learning early next year, following last summer’s original announcement. However, the latest wave of the coronavirus, and Gov. Larry Hogan’s reinstatement of the State of Emergency throughout Maryland, has prompted the system to make contingencies for a potential entire year of non-school instruction.

“While Maryland’s positivity and case rates remain lower than most states in America, we are closely monitoring increases in some of our key health metrics as well as rising numbers in states across the country,”  Gov. Hogan said in a statement released Oct. 30, where he urged Maryland residents to stay “vigilant” with social distancing and self protection guidelines such as wearing masks in public.  

“This crisis is far from over and this virus does not recognize state borders. I want to remind Marylanders that the only way to keep our state open for business is to avoid traveling to hotspots and continue following the public health guidelines. We cannot let our guard down and we must remain vigilant.”

While many parents in adjacent counties have been pressing local jurisdictions to end distance learning, Prince George’s County families seem to have made the adjustment despite the challenges they’ve faced since learning began at home.  

Before last week’s teleconference, PGCPS released the findings of a survey they conducted where families evaluated their distance learning experiences. Students and parents were surveyed from Oct. 5 through Oct. 18 regarding the return to in-person instruction, technology usage and communication preferences. Sixty-eight percent of parents were uncomfortable with allowing their child to return next spring currently, while in July, 46 percent of families expressed a preference to continue distance learning. The school system surveyed over 100,000 students in grades 3-12 and more than 89,000 parents between Oct. 5 – Oct. 16. They received 10,972 responses from parents and 4,672 students.

The data indicated 70 percent of parental respondents believe the distance learning services are at least “good” with more than one-quarter rating them as “excellent.” It also determined that most families are using PGCPS-issued digital devices for at-home learning, and nearly all of them have an internet connection in their homes. 

Parents expressed their concerns about keeping medically vulnerable children and family members safe. They were also worried about cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and poor air ventilation. Many also expressed a desire to have a distance learning option as schools reopen. 

“We cannot ignore the complexities around safely and responsibly reopening our school buildings for in-person instruction,” said Dr. Goldson.  “While I recognize that no scenario is perfect, working together, we can focus on safely supporting our students in developing the college and career readiness skills they need to be successful.”