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As Montgomery County, Maryland, students and staff prepare to return to in-person learning next month, the county school board met Tuesday to discuss safety protocols and voted to change some graduation requirements for 2021 seniors.

Safety protocols

Derek Turner, chief of engagement, innovation and operations for Montgomery County Public Schools, said that face masks, social distancing and using hand sanitizer will be the main safety methods used by students and staff, calling the three methods “the trifecta of keeping our staff and students safe.

In addition, he said, thermometers will be administered to all families, and students and staff will be required to fill out a health attestation each week, answering a series of questions about the individual’s contact with COVID-19, potential symptoms and whether they have tested positive. The form will be provided in multiple languages.

As an additional safety protocol, Turner said that the county plans “pool testing,” which will be a voluntary testing of asymptomatic students and staff on a regular basis, starting March 15.

He said that with support from Gov. Larry Hogan, the county will get 50,000 rapid testing kits for pool testing in schools. The county school administration is asking for $5 million to begin the pool testing system for the rest of the year.

If one person tests positive in a class, then the entire class will need to quarantine and move to virtual learning while each students is tested individually.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted Feb. 9 for staff and students to return to in-person learning, starting March 1 for students with special needs and students in Career and Technical Education programs. Other students and staff will return March 15, with the exception of students who selected to remain virtual.

Seth Adams, the director of facilities management for MCPS, told the board, which met in a combination of virtual and in-person attendance, that more than 65,000 air filters have been changed and 5,000 air cleaner systems have been placed in classrooms and health rooms.

Adams told the school board that water fountains will be out of service, but water bottle stations will be open or installed in schools.

Turner said 5,427 county public school staff members have received vaccinations; several board members argued that that’s not enough, given that more than 24,000 teachers and staff work for the system.

Board President Brenda Wolff said she had asked staff to prepare a letter to County Executive Marc Elrich “to see if we could prioritize teachers” in future vaccination plans.

Educational changes 

The board voted unanimously to change the graduation requirements for 2021 seniors.

Students now only need three math credits, including one in algebra/data analysis and one in geometry, a half-credit in physical education and a total of 21 credits. These are the Maryland state requirements; the board voted to waive the county’s extra standards.

Additionally, students have the option to attend summer school to fulfill graduation requirements.

Niki Hazel, associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs at MCPS, said that they are asking for a waiver for summer school fees for students.

Hazel said that students are allowed to request a reduced schedule this semester and make up credits during the summer or in another school year.

Students will also be able to take up to two courses that aren’t graduation requirements as pass/fail. They can also retroactively apply the pass/fail standards for last semester.

The meeting is continuing; this report will be updated.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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Idaho parents and kids burn masks in front of state Capitol

Parents in Idaho headed to the state's Capitol building with their children Saturday to burn their masks, contesting continued mask mandates and violating local orders. 

Idaho Republican Gov. Brad Little never enforced a state-wide mask mandate, but several of the state’s districts enforced county-wide regulations to slow the spread of the deadly virus.

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Eastern Idaho Public Health Director Geri Rackow announced earlier this week, that due to the dip in cases and hospitalizations, the state's seventh district was lifting thier mask mandate.

"I feel that continuing to issue public health orders is no longer justified," Rackow said during a Thursday board meeting, reported East Idaho News.

Though she added, "I make a plea for personal accountability for everyone to make the choice for yourself to help in slowing the spread of the disease."

Videos posted to twitter Saturday by an Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter, show parents surrounding an old bin on fire as kids chucked masks into the flames.  Photos of Democrat lawmakers were also reportedly burned in the protest deemed "burn the mask."

While counties around the state have seen mask mandates repealed, cities have continued to enforce the safety precautions – including Boise.

Fox News could not immediately reach the Boise Mayor Lauren McLean’s office for comment on Saturday’s events.

McLean issued a mask order in late February after the Central District Health board voted to roll back mask regulations, prompting Republican lawmakers to introduce legislation that would bar government officials from enforcing mask mandates.

Republican state Rep. Karey Hanks claimed that she had done research "on the physical and emotional and even mental injuries to our bodies, and possibly even our souls," that mask mandates have allegedly caused.

"When people wear face masks, they tend to not social distance as much, not tend to wash their hands, take other safety precautions because they feel that they’re just taken care of because of the mask," she said.

Idaho has confirmed over 172,000 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic started, with more than 1,800 deaths.

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President Biden has called on everyone to wear a mask for the first 100 days of his presidency, and said that by May the U.S. should have 300 million vaccines – nearly enough to vaccinate the entire country.

But states like Texas and Mississippi have rejected the president’s calls for safety and lifted all coronavirus related restrictions, including mask mandates.

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Biden has been frustrated by the decision of Republican officials not to heed advice given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and take continued precautions, calling the Republican governors "Neanderthals" earlier this week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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