Gov. Larry Hogan announced yesterday that all of Maryland’s public schools should plan for in-person learning this fall. The announcement comes just days before the start of the school year.
“It is absolutely critical that we begin the process of getting our children safely and gradually back into the classrooms,” Hogan said at a late afternoon press conference.
Before Hogan’s announcement, all of Maryland’s school districts were planning to begin the school year with remote learning. Sixteen districts indicated that they will consider bringing some groups of students back into the classrooms as early as mid-September depending on COVID-19 positivity rates.
Eight districts, including Baltimore and Harford counties, and the state’s largest school districts of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, said they will remain online for the first semester, which ends in January.
Hogan criticized those eight county school districts and said parents are eager to have their children back in the classroom.
“Some of the county school boards have not even attempted to develop any safe reopening plans, which would bring any kids back for any form of in person instruction,” he said. “This is simply not acceptable.”
Hogan praised the state’s response to COVID-19, saying that Maryland was one of the first states to close public schools during the pandemic and that schools should now be able to safely reopen because the state’s COVID-19 health metrics are improving.
The governor noted that statewide testing positivity rates--the proportion of positive COVID-19 tests--have been below 5% for 63 consecutive days. He touted Maryland’s positivity rate, which is currently at 3.3%. At its highest, the state’s positivity rate reached nearly 27%. Hogan also said that hospitalization rates are down, with a 32% decline in ICU levels this past month.
Dr. Jinlene Chan, Maryland’s Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health, supported the governor’s announcement and laid out what the metrics would be for a given school jurisdiction to safely reopen.
“First we would look at test positivity in the jurisdiction, and whether or not it is above or below 5% over a seven day period,” she said.
Chan said that they would then look at the average case rates per 100,000 people over that seven day period.
“Jurisdictions that are both below 5% test positivity and five cases per 100,000 should have the ability to hold in person instruction, as long as all recommended guidance on physical distancing, mask use, and other measures are able to be put in place,” she said.
Maryland Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon went on to urge local school systems to transition to in-person learning. She provided a financial incentive for bringing students back by the end of the first quarter.
“The state stands ready to assist school systems that make the decision to bring students back in person, and have $10 million in grant funding to be available for systems who are able to move towards in person instruction at the end of the first marking period,” Salmon said.
Democratic legislators criticized Hogan, saying that the state should have provided guidance earlier for reopening, before county school boards formalized their own reopening plans.
Hogan’s announcement also received swift backlash on social media from some county schools superintendents, who reiterated their plans to stick with virtual learning for the first semester of the school year.