ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As Maryland’s largest school system continues its pandemic reopening phase today, multigenerational families are facing a choice of continuing schooling online, and facing learning loss, or risking exposure to COVID-19 in person.

More than 110,000 Maryland children younger than 18 live with grandparents, according to the group

Gboyinde Onijala, spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said about 50% of families polled in the county decided to keep their children home this spring, many because of elders at home.

That’s even though six times more Montgomery County students failed math and English learning online this past fall compared with the same time last year when schools were opened.

“Virtual learning is a challenge for many, many students,” Onijala explained. “Of course, family circumstances tend to compound the effect and the strain on students. But the vast majority has found it to be a very hard transition.”

She noted Montgomery County is offering a tutoring program to help virtual learners.

Today, students in kindergarten through third grade return to school in the county, with the rest of the grades coming back by mid-April.

More than 47,000 Maryland grandparents bear sole responsibility for grandkids.

About 38% are age 60 and older, and 14% live in poverty.

Jaia Peterson Lent, deputy executive director of the National Center on Grandfamilies, said grandfamilies were already often challenged in supporting their children’s learning at home, even before the pandemic.

“Parents are often complaining about the way they teach math nowadays, right?” Lent remarked. “‘This is different than what I did as a child.’ Well, it’s really challenging and new for many older generations to be looking at different ways that kids are being taught.”

Sixth graders in Montgomery County saw a decisive rise in failure rates in English between online learning this fall and the same time last year.

The failure rate of white students went from 0.2% in 2019 to 1.3% in 2020. Black students failure rate rose from 1.4% to 4.1% and Latino students saw the biggest rise, from 1.5% to 7.3%.

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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