MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WJLA) — Students from at least 21 high schools in Montgomery County participated in a county-wide walkout at noon Friday.
The students wanted to call attention to what they perceive as poor responses to the most recent COVID-19 upticks affecting the school system. This massive demonstration came on the heels of the most recent update from the school system,16 more Montgomery schools will go virtual and MCPS is now asking county health officials to take over contact tracing.
Brooke Ellinwood, one of the organizers of the walkout and a junior from Gaithersburg High School, said the students are demanding increased health precautions, a temporary return to remote learning, and if nothing else, better enforcement of the indoor mask mandate.
“We don’t believe that we are in a safe learning environment at the moment. There are so many students who do not wear their masks correctly. There are many at-risk students, there are people who don’t feel comfortable coming into school anymore," said Ellinwood.
Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight reiterated to the county council again this week her commitment to keeping schools open for in-person instruction and the school system will only go virtual learning on a school-by-school basis.
Earlier this month, MCPS laid out a color-coded system to determine virtual learning. After thresholds skyrocketed, the plan was thrown out.
MCPS announced that they are now expanding the availability of virtual instruction. MCPS has committed, on a case-by-case basis, to offer virtual instruction to students who are not in quarantine but have concerns about attending school due to COVID-19. Families interested in this option should contact their child’s school, and the absences will be excused. This option will be available through Monday, Jan. 31, and may be extended.
“They have failed us, they have harbored an environment where it’s a COVID breeding ground. And we are not satisfied with the level of education we are receiving at the moment because so many staff are out, so many students are out,” added Ellinwood.
The county plans to provide 190,000 rapid COVID-19 test kits to each school every other week — That number should cover all students and staff.
Nora Rudmann, one of the organizers behind the walkout, said protestors are calling for the school system to switch to virtual learning for two weeks.
“We’re not asking to go virtual for the rest of the school year,” Rudmann said. “Just giving us that buffer period to allow case numbers to die down.”