Maryland Schools May Begin Safely Reopening: Governor Hogan

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ANNAPOLIS, MD — School systems in Maryland are "strongly encouraged" to move toward some in-person learning, State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon said Thursday. She joined Gov. Larry Hogan and Acting Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan in announcing the plan for reopening and a financial incentive for schools to do so.

Hogan said he hears from parents daily who are frustrated that their school districts are not reopening.

"There is broad and overwhelming agreement that finding a way to begin safely returning children to classrooms must be a top priority," Hogan said. "There is no substitute for in-person instruction."

All school districts had to submit plans for the upcoming school year by Aug. 14 to the Maryland State Department of Education. Eight jurisdictions did not submit reopening plans that would allow students to return for any in-person instruction in any capacity, Hogan said.

"This is simply not acceptable," Hogan said. "It is not the right thing for our Maryland children."

State health authorities and education officials have developed metrics for allowing school systems to bring children in for some in-person learning.

"All county school systems are able to begin safely reopening," Hogan said Thursday. "We're not going to order them to open schools," he said, but leaders would "strongly suggest" at least some instruction be in person.

"Every single county school system in the state of Maryland is now fully authorized to begin safely reopening," Hogan said as a result of improvements in health metrics in the state.

Maryland's positivity rate for the coronavirus has been under 5 percent since June 25, Hogan said. There have been "dramatic improvements," and all jurisdictions were below 5 percent as of last week, he reported Thursday.

MD Health Officials Give Guidance For School Decisions

"All jurisdictions across the state of Maryland could open" for some level of in-person instruction, Acting Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan said Thursday at a news conference in Annapolis.

Wearing face coverings, maintaining 6 feet of physical distancing and cleaning and disinfecting measures were critical components of making in-person instruction successful, said Chan, who said all three of her children will go to school in classrooms this year.

Metrics the state will recommend watching for reopening include:

  • Test positivity should be below 5 percent over a seven-day period.

  • There should be five cases or fewer per 100,000 people.

Jurisdictions with higher case rates should be able to put in a hybrid model with some in-person instruction, she said.

State Superintendent 'Strongly Encouraging' In-Person Instruction

"I am strongly encouraging local school systems to re-evaluate their mode of instruction" by the end of the first quarter, especially if they indicated they were not planning to re-evaluate until January 2021, Salmon said.

School administrators in Baltimore County and Prince George’s County said they planned to keep classes online through January 2021.

Because health metrics were trending in a positive direction, Salmon said school districts around the state should begin planning to bring students back to campus in some capacity.

In Calvert and Worcester counties, Salmon said school systems showed over the summer that they were able to limit capacity in the classroom to allow in-person learning, with students wearing face coverings and following social distancing protocols.

There will be $10 million in grant funding for school systems that can move to some form of in-person instruction by the end of the first quarter, Salmon said, as a means of encouraging them to move forward with in-person learning.

"I believe very strongly that every single child in Maryland deserves access to a world-class education," regardless of which neighborhood they live in, Hogan said. "I want to take a moment to assure our youngest Marylanders ... that we do all care about you," Hogan said. "We will get through this together."

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School starts Aug. 31 in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. It will begin Sept. 1 in Cecil County. The first day of school will be Sept. 8 for those in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said the orders given Thursday were "a recipe for chaos," coming days before the start of the school year.

“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. We need collaboration and problem-solving, not political theater," said Bost, a Baltimore County elementary school teacher.

“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 a 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.”

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This article originally appeared on the Baltimore Patch

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