ANNAPOLIS, MD — A group of educational advocates said Tuesday that it was not safe to return to schools in the fall. The team urged Maryland leaders to issue a statewide declaration to keep schools online for at least one semester. Delaying school openings would reduce potential transmissions and allow education officials extra time to plan for a safe return, the partners said.
The declaration came during an afternoon Zoom call hosted by the Maryland State Education Association, which is the parent group of county teacher unions. The association also represents teachers in pro-education lobbying. This announcement follows the group's public concerns about the safety of returning to schools and the potential drawbacks of distance learning.
More than 80 percent of MSEA members are concerned about the student motivation, participation, internet access and mental health implications of online classes, according to two association-sponsored polls. The same polls reported that the majority of its members "strongly support reduced class sizes, [personal protective equipment] for educators and students, and additional mental health staff as pre-requisites to reopening schools."
The concerns about school reopening came as the state reported Tuesday its largest daily increase in coronavirus hospitalizations since May 26. Maryland has 415 COVID-19 hospitalizations, an increase of 29 patients from Monday.
“The pandemic has exacerbated inequity and trauma that existed widely before the pandemic shuttered schools,” Cheryl Bost, the association's president, said in an online statement. “These polls clearly show that educators and the public know that we need to protect school funding and the health of our educators and students. Our kids have waited too long for equity in education, and now more than ever we must act to give all of our students the opportunities and support that they deserve.”
Bost's comments followed her criticism of Gov. Larry Hogan for vetoing legislation that would have overhauled Maryland's education system. The legislation, officially called the Kirwan plan, would have increased teacher salaries, expanded pre-K and given extra aid to underfunded schools.
The plan, which Bost's group dubbed the Blueprint for Maryland's Future, would have cost more than $4 billion over 10 years. Counties would have split the expenses evenly with the state. Hogan said the plan was slated to cost the typical Maryland family an extra $6,200 in taxes over the next five years.
Hogan's worries are amplified by the budgetary issues caused by coronavirus shutdowns. The Board of Revenue Estimates said the pandemic cost the state about $1 billion in funding. Hogan requested $1.45 billion in budget cuts for the current fiscal year, which started on July , to off set these losses.
Maryland has registered 74,260 coronavirus cases. More than 3,200 Marylanders have died from the disease.
While Maryland has seen decreased positivity rates and increased testing, the number of new daily cases is up. The state reported 733 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the largest jump in more than a month. This time last week, that number was 492.
New daily cases topped out at 1,784 on May 19 and were as low as 260 on June 18.
Maryland schools have been closed since the state superintendent, Karen Salmon, shut them down in March. The school system will remain closed until Salmon and Hogan indicate otherwise.
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