Saying that continued full closure of in-person instruction in Maryland public schools was “simply not acceptable,” Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday unveiled a new set of coronavirus metrics that he said would allow all school systems to reopen their doors to students.
Given the new metrics, Hogan said, every county school system is “fully authorized to begin safely reopening.” That said, he acknowledged, the final decision is still up to county school boards.
Hogan said of those boards, as well as teachers unions and associations, “The hard work lies in developing the safe reopening plans, hybrid systems” to bring kids back.
Though 16 systems have made reopening plans, eight other county school boards “have not even attempted” to develop plans to bring students back in person, he said.
Jurisdictions with a positivity rate below 5% and a case rate of 5 per 100,000 people should be able to hold in-person instruction with social distancing, masks and other measures, said Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy secretary for public health services. With higher case rates, some kind of hybrid instruction would be possible.
Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.
Hogan said at the beginning of the briefing that all 24 Maryland jurisdictions have positivity test rates under 5% and case rates under 5 per 100,000. The state’s positivity rate on the whole is at 3.3% and has been under 5% for 63 consecutive days.
“We’re not going to order [school systems] to go back and open schools,” Hogan said. He acknowledged that under the law he can’t do that, and pointed out that when President Donald Trump speculated earlier this summer that he might order schools to reopen, “no one listened to him.”
“But we’re going to strongly suggest that since the numbers have improved … we’re going to provide incentives” to school systems to reopen, the governor said.
Dr. Karen Salmon, the state superintendent of schools, said that 16 Maryland school systems have plans for reopening their doors to small groups at various times during the fall.
She said the Education Department would be “strongly encouraging” school systems to review their plans and set minimum requirements for in-person instruction.
Of the other eight systems, Salmon said, “We’re hopeful they will reevaluate based on these metrics and feel more confident reopening.”
Prince George’s County is one of the systems that hasn’t made a plan, and Hogan said of the county specifically, “They should go back and reconsider.”
Of the eight systems in general, he said, “I think we’re going to go back and put pressure on them.”
Chan was asked about procedures in the event of a case, or an outbreak, of the virus in a school. She didn’t give specifics, but said “that would be part of the partnership and discussion” with local health officials, with case-by-case options as to whether to clean a classroom, shut down a classroom or shut down a school.
Asked about the political implications of his move, Hogan referred to Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy, the governors of New York and New Jersey respectively, who have issued similar orders.
“Both of these governors, Democrats, said exactly what I’ve said. They should open, we want the kids back, and they’re allowed to open by the state,” Hogan said.
Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association and a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, took Hogan to task in a statement.
“At a time when educators are focused on working hard to make the best of this year for students, the governor and superintendent are focused on throwing school communities under the bus,” Bost said. “We need collaboration and problem-solving, not political theater.
“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. 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.”
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