All Maryland schools should make every effort to return to in-person hybrid instruction no later than March 1 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, officials said Thursday.
Gov. Larry Hogan cited the “unmistakable toll” all-online learning has taken on students, families and educators.
“The time has come to get all our children back into the classroom and reopen schools," he said at a news conference.
“There is no public health reason for school boards to keep students out of schools — none,” Hogan continued.
Dr. Jinlene Chan of the state health department said there is “little evidence that school reopening is an overall driver of community spread.”
Hogan cited cities and states that have cut pay for teachers who refuse to come back, or threatened their teaching licenses. He said Maryland does not want to take such actions but “will explore every legal avenue at our disposal,” if necessary.
In Maryland it is up to each local school board to decide when to reopen. Some smaller counties are already teaching students in classroomss, but some larger Maryland counties are not yet committing to a date for reopening.
The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), which represents 75,000 teachers and education support staff, says Governor Hogan should help get them vaccinated if he wants them in school on March 1.
“They have not even begun to schedule vaccinations for our educators,” MSEA President Cheryl Bost said. “So if he could work on that I’m sure our local Boards of education will continue to work on their plans to open up schools as quickly as they can.”
Hogan's administration recently added teachers to the priority list for the coronavirus vaccine.
Prince George’s County says it is working toward returning small groups in the spring. It just announced a tentative date of Feb. 1 to begin vaccinating teachers.
Montgomery County says it is assessing the developments and continuing to work with state and local health officials.
Charles County’s superintendent has recommended continuing virtual learning until further advice from the health department but says the system is prepared to return to in-person hybrid learning.
In Frederick County, students are expected to return to in-person hybrid learning Feb. 16. It was previously scheduled to take place Jan. 28.
The latest metrics point to signs that the spread of the coronavirus is slowing in Maryland, and, to a lesser extent, the region as a whole.
Maryland’s seven-day average has decreased for 10 consecutive days, indicating a hopeful trend for the state. The seven-day average is currently at 2,386 cases.
Hospitalizations are down across the board. Earlier in January, hospitalizations in Maryland reached as high as 1,957 people. For the past week, hospitalizations have remained consistently below 1,900 people. On Thursday the state reported that 1,812 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, the lowest count in more than two weeks.
Coronavirus Cases in Maryland by Zipcode
Data for ZIP codes with 7 or fewer cases is suppressed.
Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBC Washington
President Joe Biden set a goal to have most K-8 schools reopen in his first 100 days, and he's ordering the departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide clear guidance for reopening schools safely. States would also be able to tap FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to help them get schools back open.
Getting schools and child care going will help to ease the drag on the U.S. economy, making it easier for parents to return to their jobs and restaurants to find lunch-time customers.
But administration officials stressed that reopening schools safely depends on increased testing.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.