MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Approximately 1,000 students and staff are currently in quarantine at Montgomery County Public Schools, which faced a first week rife with challenges, according to the schools’ public information officer and a letter to the community from Superintendent Monifa McKnight.
The Superintendent tightened the district's quarantine protocols after students' first week of school.
One MCPS parent said she worries the number of quarantines and positive COVID cases could go up in the days and weeks to come because of an overcrowding issue not inside the schools, but on the way home from it.
“They're touching you know arm to arm, three to a seat so yeah I think we're gonna definitely see a lot more cases next week and the week after,” Natalie Collins said. "It's a problem. Next week is when we're going to see how bad these crowded buses were and the effects of it.”
Collins said her daughter's bus was completely full and students were having to sit three to a seat. Her daughter is 11-years-old and not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
An MCPS spokesperson said there are safety measures in place for students riding the bus, including masks, frequent cleaning, and open windows to increase circulation.
However, Collins said with a bus so crowded it's hard to keep any space between the students.
“They’re still talking about like one layer of mitigation right just wearing the mask, they're still touching the same surfaces while they're there on the bus," Collins said. "So there's a huge concern of my having her there on such a crowded bus with a respiratory virus circulating.”
She said what's adding to her worry is that some of the same kids now being forced to quarantine could have been on the bus with her daughter.
"I don't know if their extension to notify us takes into consideration whether or not they're riding the bus, but even if they're not, the fact that you do have kids that are in the school that have to quarantine highlights the possibility that there can be exposure there on the bus as well," Collin said. "Just like they're getting exposed in the classroom when they're supposed to have a greater distance between them. We are now putting them on a small space where there's considerably less distance between them so the risk is really real.”
The MCPS spokesperson said Saturday that given the students are designed to specific routes the district would be able to engage in a thorough contact tracing process utilizing schedules and class assignments as needed.
In the letter sent by Superintendent Monifa McKnight, it acknowledged issues with bus routes during the district's first week. A spokesperson said as more drivers are hired they anticipate a decrease in crowded routes.
Collins worries it will be too late by the time the problem gets fixed.
"I kind of have it in the back of my mind that if they can't figure it out in a week we're going to continue to see a little more cases at the schools," Collins said. "And it's a very real possibility for us to have to make some hard decisions in the next coming week on how we're going to best take care of our kids at home.”
The district updated its quarantine guidelines following the first week of school. The policies currently in place are outlined below.
Unvaccinated students who have been in close contact with an individual who is displaying any single symptom of COVID-19 will be sent home.
Students who are sent home because they have been in close contact with an individual with symptoms may return if the individual with symptoms tests negative, or has an alternate diagnosis from a medical provider.
In the absence of a negative COVID-19 test or alternate medical diagnosis of that individual, all students who were in close contact with the individual are required to quarantine for 10 days.
You can read the full MCPS community letter HERE.