Many working parents consider the ‘back to school’ time to be the most wonderful time of the year. Office supplies chain Staples even made a commercial about it in 1996, complete with glaring kids and a happy dad loading up his cart with school supplies. The message was clear: parents often look forward to their kids going back to the school building – away from the house. However, with COVID-19 still affecting many communities, most parents are faced with the reality their kids will likely not be at school five days a week. Private schools aren’t immune from changes, whether it’s masks and temperature checks or smaller classes and cancelled extracurriculars.

The Lowdown on DC-MD-VA School Plans and State Responses

School Plans Maryland: The state has left if up to counties to determine the appropriate response for their 2020-21 education plan. The four counties nearest to the D.C. area are Howard, Prince George, Montgomery, and Anne Arundel. Contractors and agencies with employees in these four counties should know that all public schools will be 100% virtual until January 2021.

D.C.: Public schools are planning for 100% virtual-only options for PreK to 12th grade until November 6, when their first term ends.

Virginia: Just like Maryland, Virginia has left the decisions to its counties. Virginia gets a little messier with its distinctions between cities and counties too – just an added bonus. Arlington County, Alexandria City, Falls Church, Fairfax County, City of Fairfax, City of Manassas, Manassas Park, Prince William County, and Loudon County are the closest VA communities to D.C.  Out of the nine cities and counties, only the City of Falls Church currently has plans for a blended approach of online and in person instruction.

Manassas City and Prince William County are offering in-person plans for special needs and English as a Second Language students. Most counties and cities vary between an August 31 and September 8 start date. None of them have committed to an exact date of when virtual will end and in-class instruction will begin. Manassas Park says it will monitor the state of things monthly.

State Responses Maryland: Governor Hogan has pushed increased testing throughout the state. Maryland has also tightened its belt with some stricter mask guidelines, and travel advisories in order to protect its residents.

D.C.: Residents in the District are required to wear a mask, basically anytime they are outside their own home. Some exceptions apply, of course, but D.C.’s mayor has taken a strict stance, even levying fines for failing to wear a mask. D.C. is also requiring anyone who has traveled to high risk states (at the moment, there are 27 states on the list) to self-quarantine for two weeks. “The DMV region has, relative to many areas of the country, been doing really very well when we’re looking at cases, when we’re looking at our positivity rate, when we’re looking at hospitalizations and deaths,” Dr. Melissa Hawkins, the director of the public health scholars program at American University’s department of health studies.

Virginia: The state has adopted an “emergency temporary standard.” The response by VA requires safety measures employers need to implement or face high fines. Masks in public spaces were already required by the governor, but the emergency response also outlines how employees may not show up to work if they suspect they have the coronavirus. It also requires companies to notify other workers if exposure to an infected coworker is possible. Physical distancing, protective gear, sanitation, disinfecting, and hand washing also have mandates. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating or discriminating against employees who might voice concerns about risks.

Key DMV Employers

Large and small organizations in the DMV area have responded favorably to federal and state mandates, as well as employee health needs. Federal agencies have balanced mission support with employee wellness and safety. The region’s two largest employers are two of the communities struggling most with COVID-19 response – the federal government and the public school system. Over the past month the Department of Defense has worked to clean up and begin phased reopening of America’s largest office building. The Departments of State and Energy have also begun phased reopening. Other agencies, including NASA, have been more cautious, keeping mandatory telework in place for most employees. The mixed bag approach of open offices and closed schools places many parents in cleared government work in a serious conundrum.

Private contractors, including Booz Allen, which is one of the regions top employers, are taking steps to provide support. This past spring, Booz Allen directed $100 million of its budget to enhance employee health, childcare, and other COVID-19 related issues. Booz Allen also pledged job security for its employees. Booz Allen’s response is why its employees have praised their employer for its flexibility, employee recognition, and innovative culture.

“These moves will help protect the health and financial security of our people, their loved ones and their communities during a very uncertain, difficult time,” Horacio Rozanski, Booz Allen’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Supporting our people empowers them to fully support our clients in this time of critical need. Our business is our people, and this is just the right thing to do.”

Key Takeaways to support Working Parents in the DMV area

It’s not easy battling federal, state, and local requirements for operating within the region. However, it’s an added challenge for working parents to consider educating a five year old while attending a weekly staff call. It’s important for employers to understand the pressure employees are under to meet professional and family needs.

Flexible scheduling is key when it comes to coronavirus work/life balance. While it may have been reasonable before to require teleworkers to adhere to a specific schedule, with school options up in the air for everyone, it’s important for employers to focus on completion of work, rather than available hours. And let’s not make a big deal when kids continue to pop into the video conference calls or coworkers have to jump off the call for a few minutes to meet their kids’ needs. Spring was all about an immediate triage response, but as we move into the fall, it’s clear that some of our initial responses to ensure health and safety will need to resume.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.