UniteGPS – Desperate times called for desperate measures in Md. as Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) appealed to the state National Guard to cover drivers dealing with omicron. According to Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Earl Stoddard, MCPS made the request last week and proceeded to contact the Maryland Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to follow up.

MCPS is the largest school district in the state of Maryland and the 14th-largest in the United States

After officials expedited this information to the Maryland Department of Transportation and National Guard, so far, the verdict is that the state doesn’t have the current resources to employ units. The reality is that most National Guard members qualified to drive buses are either not available or assist in other areas to tackle rising omicron cases.

Anticipating a challenging month ahead for Maryland’s largest district with 208 schools and over 165,000 students, Stoddard emphasized during a Jan. 11 briefing that his community has officially entered uncharted territory. 

“We can cover up some of the worst of the issues, but — we’re asking the National Guard to provide bus drivers,” said Stoddard during the virtual town hall meeting. “I want to let that sink in for people. That is not something we would do under normal circumstances. These are not normal times.”

Virtual learning at Montgomery County Public Schools

At a breaking point, MCPS has witnessed a surge in COVID-19 cases since the holidays, especially among the older demographic of drivers operating around 1,400 buses in the district. Not only has this forced MCPS to alter dozens of routes while dealing with the hiring shortage but also the return to virtual learning

“That’s a significant number of routes, and for many parents, it’s an inconvenience,” said Stoddard, noting the “significant burden that is placed on some of our most hard-hit communities.”

Whether or not to return to virtual learning has become a point of contention in the community following the winter break. Originally MCPS tried implementing a color-coded system for measuring COVID-19 rates in schools, the suspension of in-person instruction depending on the rate at any given time.

Administrators have scrapped this plan, however, now agreeing to determine the need for virtual learning on an individual school basis. County leaders would ultimately prefer to keep students in the classroom as much as possible. 

“I think we’d prefer not to make a systemwide decision,” said Stoddard. “But, the staffing issues could certainly get us to a point where, under some extreme circumstances, it could become necessary.”

MCPS institutions that have gone virtual include Cannon Road Elementary School, Forest Knolls Elementary School, Hallie Wells Middle School, Monocacy Elementary School, North Chevy Chase Elementary School, Roberto Clemente Middle School, Rock Terrace School, Rosemont Elementary School, Seneca Valley High School, Sherwood Elementary School, as well as Waters Landing Elementary School.