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Montgomery County Public Schools' interim superintendent has a plan to keep kids safe

Dr. Monifa McKnight discussed what's ahead for students in Maryland's largest school system.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Children from Maryland's largest school system, Montgomery County, return to class Monday. About 160,000 students will be in-person five days a week, and 3,000 will attend the county's virtual academy. 

WUSA9 discussed what's in motion to keep students and staff safe during the pandemic with the interim superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight, who said the school district is prepared.

"We are ready. We've been anticipating the opening of school on Monday for the past 18 months," Dr. McKnight said.

Dr. McKnight said student safety is constantly on her mind, especially since children under 12 are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

"What I continue to think about are our students who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19," Dr. McKnight said. "So we have been very intentional thinking about how we prepare those spaces for our students. That's why we have our protocols in place, such as testing for those students under the age of 12."

Montgomery County Public Schools is also requiring staff to get vaccinated if they can, or submit to weekly testing.

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With concerns about lunch-time protocols at other school districts, Dr. McKnight said MCPS is looking at utilizing outdoor spaces to maintain social distancing for students.

"We are now looking at our school buildings and our school spaces and outdoor areas and asking how can we leverage the space that we have in the most safe way for our students and staff to utilize for times such as lunch," McKnight said.

Last week, Rappahannock announced a decision to return to virtual learning for a week because of an uptick in COVID-19 cases among students and staff there, Dr. McKnight said there is a plan in place if students have to return to virtual learning.

RELATED: Northern Virginia middle school forced to go virtual amid rising COVID cases

"What we've had to navigate throughout this entire pandemic is pivoting and preparing for the unknown," said McKnight.

She said that while the pandemic has forced some big changes on the public education system, she looks at it as an opportunity to rebuild. An opportunity she said she is looking forward to.

"Many of the traditions that we've had in place have been in place for centuries. And it probably would not change unless something truly came along and forced that change in a meaningful way," Dr. McKnight said. "I look forward to leading the school system during a time in which we can represent the change that really does model a new era for public education for our students in Montgomery County schools."

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