It was a surprise to a lot of Maryland school districts when Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Thursday that he wants students to return to in-person learning.
Montgomery and Prince George's counties are both set to begin the school year online Monday. Both plan to have all-online school throughout the first half of the school year.
But Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon said on Thursday that districts operating under this plan are "strongly encouraged" to reconsider by the end of the first quarter.
Hogan's last-minute push for “flexible, hybrid plans to safely get some of our kids back into classrooms" appeared to cause both confusion and frustration.
Prince George's County
News4's Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins reports.
Montgomery and Prince George's schools each affirmed that they are not altering plans. Some officials and leaders went further, questioning or criticizing the governor's announcement.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich issued a joint statement with the county council on Sunday blasting Hogan's announcement.
"We are dismayed and perplexed that Governor Hogan made this announcement just days before students return to school," the statement read.
Montgomery County schools issued a statement saying it's "deeply disappointed" that schools were informed so late. It says the school system working on a plan to bring some pupils, such as special education students, back as soon as it's safe.
Montgomery County is Maryland's largest school system, with 165,000 students and 24,000 staff. The statement continued to say that changing plans "cannot happen overnight."
Officials in that county have also clashed with Hogan over private schools. The county had ordered private and parochial schools to close, but the governor said they could reopen.
Prince George's County was specifically mentioned by Hogan on Thursday. He says things have changed there since the school leaders first began planning and they should go back and reconsider.
Prince George's has been the Maryland county hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and by several metrics the situation is improving. New cases are down, but the proportion of positive tests has only been under the state's goal of 5% for one week.
Dr. Alvin Thornton, Prince George's County Board of Education Chair, said there are no plans to change course for the school's reopening.
Theresa Dudley, president of the Prince George's County teachers' union said Hogan's last-minute call for school districts to change fall plans is impractical and she questions his timing.
"'Is he crazy?' That was my initial reaction," Dudley said. "I know it was politically motivated. It's the last day of the Republican National Convention. And for him to come out and say this two days before school opens?"
Hogan's office said the timing was not tied to the convention.
"It's easier to say we're not going to bring any kids back for the rest of the year as opposed to sitting down doing the hard work of figuring out how could we get kids back in for safe instruction," Hogan said on Thursday.
But leadership for both the suburban districts say the decision to commit to remote learning for the first half of the school year is about keeping students, staff and the communities safe from coronavirus.
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost also rebuked Hogan and Salmon, saying they are “throwing school communities under the bus.”
Dr. Annette Anderson, Deputy Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, says what parents and students need most is consistency in the messaging.
"I think that's why you heard back from some of the school systems right away saying, listen, we've already made our plans for how are schools are going to open in the fall and we're going to stick to that," Anderson said.
Hogan cannot force students back inside schools because it's up to the school districts.
He is offering $10 million in grants to school districts that offer some form of in-person learning.
News4 reached out to Hogan's office for comment. The spokesperson told us that after the Maryland State Board of Education met on Monday and Tuesday to discuss fall plans, the governor and superintendent decided to make the announcement on Thursday.
The spokesperson went on to say the announcement had nothing to do with the Republican convention because Hogan didn't watch either the GOP or Democratic convention.