Governor Tells Schools To Offer In-Person Classes By March
Gov. Larry Hogan is ordering local school systems to give all students the option to return in-person to their classrooms by March 1.
Keeping students out of school is costing them an estimated five to nine months of learning loss, Hogan said at a press conference Thursday, and the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak at schools is low.
“There is no public health reason for school boards to be keeping students out of schools, none,” Hogan said. “The science is clear, and nearly everyone wants to get our kids back into school.”
Hogan warned that any schools that fail to bring students back by March could face severe consequences. He cited Chicago, which has threatened to withhold pay from teachers who refuse to teach in-person. Ohio is withholding vaccines from teachers who do not go back, he said, and South Carolina is threatening teaching licenses.
“We do not want to have to take such actions here in Maryland,” Hogan said. “But if school systems do not immediately begin a good-faith effort to return to the classrooms, we will explore every legal avenue at our disposal.”
Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary for public health services at the Maryland Department of Health, highlighted some of the science behind the governor’s assertions that returning to classrooms is safe.
Transmission of COVID-19 in schools “is relatively uncommon when there is effective implementation of the mitigation strategies, including distancing, use of masks and cleaning,” Chan said.
However, many Maryland public schools are not closely adhering to the health department’s guidance, said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents teachers.
“We're asking systems to follow the guidance that the health department here in Maryland and the CDC have put in place — masks, so much disinfecting that takes place, social distancing, Plexiglas around bus drivers and our front office secretaries,” Bost said.
Bost said schools also need additional staff to support in-person learning for some students while others continue learning remotely.
And Bost took issue with Chan’s assertion that, given the limited number of vaccines available at the moment, the number of teachers and other school staff who have received COVID-19 vaccines should not factor into districts’ reopening decisions.
“We've been educating our members and educators across the state about why it's important to be vaccinated, and you know, what the research is showing,” Bost said. “And now to turn around and say, ‘Oh, you really don't need that,’ — that's not true.”
Bost said many of her union’s 75,000 members have been eagerly vying for the vaccine, but those in larger districts with more healthcare facilities are struggling as they compete with healthcare and other essential workers.
Baltimore Teachers Union spokesman Corey Gaber echoed Bost’s concerns.
“Our facilities have not completed their ventilation upgrades and our staff have not been vaccinated,” Gaber said in a statement. “If the Governor is serious about solving the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic and getting students back into school buildings, he can focus on accelerating the vaccine rollout and getting City Schools the resources they need to create healthy learning environments."