Maryland Governor Urges ‘Safe' In-Person Reopening of Schools Statewide

The state “strongly suggests” that local school districts bring students back into schools but cannot force them to do so, Gov. Larry Hogan said

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says he has authorized all public schools in the state to begin “safely” reopening because state metrics on the coronavirus show improvements. 

In remarks Thursday afternoon, the governor called for “flexible, hybrid plans to safely get some of our kids back into classrooms.” Days before the start of the school year, he criticized county leaders who chose to conduct classes online in the fall. 

The state “strongly suggests” that local school districts bring students back into schools but cannot force them to do so, Hogan said. School districts that reopen for in-person learning will receive “incentives,” he said.

Districts that are all-virtual are “strongly encouraged” to reconsider their plans by the end of the first quarter, State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon said.

Health and safety precautions would remain in place.

Data shows the state is ready to reopen schools at some level, said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state health department’s acting deputy secretary.

COVID-19 cases in Maryland have declined for the past month, with the average number of daily cases decreasing from 902 cases at the start of the month to 548 cases on Thursday. Fewer people were hospitalized with the virus. Only 412 Marylanders were in the hospital for COVID-19, compared to 592 at the start of the month.

Additionally, according to a University of Maryland analysis, Maryland ranks well when it comes to social distancing. More than a quarter of residents are staying home, placing the state in seventh place among U.S. states.

Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost rebuked Hogan and Salmon, saying they are “throwing school communities under the bus.”

“The governor and superintendent abdicated responsibility for creating reopening standards and told districts to come up with their own plans, indicating appropriate confidence that local school systems would do what is best for students,” Bost said in as statement. “Today, they chose to ambush and second guess the hard decisions that local boards of education, parents and educators have made to keep students and schools safe. In the continued absence of adequate state and federal funds to help schools open safely — to include measures such as rapid testing, certified ventilation systems and needed PPE — this is a recipe for chaos, confusion, distrust and deepening the inequities that too many of our students face.”

Coronavirus Cases in Maryland by Zipcode

Data for ZIP codes with 7 or fewer cases is suppressed.

Credit: Anisa Holmes/NBC Washington

Hogan, a Republican, said his decision was based on science. He pointed out that the Democratic governors of New Jersey and New York have recently made similar announcements about schools.

“Both of those governors, Democrats, said exactly what I said. There’s no politics,” Hogan said. 

School starts virtually Monday in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

“We have listened to parents and our community in making decisions that prioritize our students’ needs,” Prince George’s County Board of Education Chair Dr. Alvin Thornton said in a statement. “At this time, we have no plans to change course in reopening PGCPS. The 2020-21 school year will start with distance learning as scheduled Monday, Aug. 31.

“We will work with the county executive, local health officials and the CEO to assess when it is safe for our students and employees to resume in-person learning.”  

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said they will continue making decision based on the advice of medical professionals.

“While we are pleased to see our COVID-19 infections decline, we are very clear that this virus is still active in our community,” she said in a statement. “We are excited to start a new school year on Monday and we look forward to welcoming back all of our PGCPS students, teachers and staff virtually.”

Students and parents are making the final push to start all-virtual classes on Monday, Aug. 31. News4's Chris Gordon talked to families about the unprecedented semester ahead.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich questioned the coronavirus rate numbers the governor used to make his decision.

“He says 5 percent, and we are not consistently below that,” Elrich said.

“We are deeply disappointed by the last-minute announcement of this critical information for school systems,” Montgomery County Public Schools said in a statement. “MCPS will begin the school year in a virtual-only instructional model on August 31, as scheduled. We know many in our community will have questions about what this new guidance means for our students. Please allow us time to thoughtfully assess these important developments and continue to prepare for a successful start to the school year.”

All 24 school districts in Maryland had made the decision to begin the school year with online-only learning.

Hogan said Maryland is making $10 million in grant funding available to help systems able to move toward in-person instruction.

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