Montgomery County

Montco Delays Vote on School Closures in Coronavirus Pandemic

Toward the end of the meeting, the Zoom chat and audio feed were full of parents urging county health board members to vote now.

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Leaders in Montgomery County delayed a vote to halt in-person learning at all schools amid rising coronavirus cases, as a marathon Zoom meeting went on with hours of opposition from parents and school leaders.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's largest teacher's union has called for more virtual learning to prevent the spread of the virus.

The county Board of Health had expressed concern that with cases spiking due to private social gatherings, bars and restaurants and in-household spread, schools should go virtual for a 2-week period around the Thanksgiving holiday.

But before voting on a course of action, board members were met with dozens and dozens of public comments urging them to let schools stay open, or allow schools to make that decision for themselves.

The wide majority of the public comments in the 2-and-a-half-hour meeting Thursday were against the proposed mandatory all-virtual school. That includes parents of special needs children who felt strongly that in-person school was the better option for their child's needs than virtual. Other parents said they moved their children to private schools this fall in order to have some in-person learning that was not available in public schools this spring.

Still more had concerns about balancing working from home while keeping an eye on their children's virtual learning.

Principals and superintendents from multiple public and religious schools spoke in the meeting.

John Niehls, the head of Coventry Christian Schools in Pottstown, hoped the county would not mandate all schools to close, but leave it up to the schools. He said his school has seen one case of the virus.

"That case was a situation where the student caught it from both of their parents," Niehls said.

Niehls said when he spoke with county health officials about the case, he was told the officials were not seeing spread in the schools.

"All of the counties around us have updated their guidelines throughout the year, this fall, but none of them have mandated schools across their counties close," Niehls said.

Other parents were frustrated that after months of closure, their children finally returned to in-person in the past week. Others were waiting to go back at the end of November, and wondering if that would happen at all.

Board of Health chair Dr. Michael Laign said the board would meet again at 12 p.m. Friday for the vote. He said members of the board - which includes multiple practicing doctors - needed to get to patient appointments and the meeting was running too long.

The attempt to adjourn the meeting led to people speaking out of turn and the Board muted everyone on the call except for Laign as they worked out the schedule for the 12 p.m. Friday vote.

Amid another surge in COVID-19 cases, the policy lab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommends that schools in the Philadelphia region go to remote learning by Monday. NBC10’s Drew Smith has the details on which schools are considering the recommendation.
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