Elrich, Council Respond to Hogan: ‘We are Dismayed and Perplexed’

Left to right: Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. Via Montgomery County, MD Flickr.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and the county council made it clear they are not pleased with Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement “authorizing” schools to reopen in-person and pushing schools to implement hybrid learning plans. 

We are dismayed and perplexed that Governor Hogan made this announcement just days before students return to school,” Elrich and the council said in a statement Saturday. Hogan made his announcement during a press conference Thursday and Monday is the first day of classes for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).

“Switching plans for a school system with 165,000 students and 24,000 staff cannot happen overnight. MCPS has outlined a blended virtual learning model that, when the time is right, will be implemented,” Elrich and the council said. The statement says “data and science” went into the decision to stay virtual and MCPS collaborated with public health experts.

In MCPS’ fall plan, Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith said County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles recommended on July 20 that the school system stay remote at least through the first quarter and possibly the entire semester. Taking that advice, last week the Board of Education unanimously approved an all-virtual fall semester plan. 

At Thursday’s press conference, Hogan said all jurisdictions can reopen schools in-person thanks to improving health metrics. He cited state metrics such as: As of Thursday Maryland’s COVID-19 positivity rate had been under 5% for 63 consecutive days. 

For the first time last week, Hogan said positivity rates for all jurisdictions fell below 5% and 17 of the 24 have a rate below 3.5%. As of Thursday hospitalizations had decreased almost 76% since they peaked over 100 days ago, and Hogan said ICU levels had decreased 32% in the last month. Disparities by age are improving, too: the gap in positivity rates in those 35 and younger vs. 35 and older has narrowed significantly.

Hogan said it is “simply not acceptable” to keep all students home when metrics are looking better.

“It is essential that we all work together on flexible, hybrid plans to safely get some of our kids back into classrooms and into healthy and supportive learning environments,” he said. State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon agreed and said she strongly encourages school systems to re-evaluate their fall plans by the end of the first quarter, especially those systems that plan to stay virtual until January like MCPS. 

School reopening decisions are left to local school boards so Hogan cannot mandate in-person learning, however he said decisions must be based on state guidelines and benchmarks.

MCPS and the Board of Education put out a joint statement Thursday shortly after Hogan’s announcement. It offered the same sentiment as the county’s statement. 

“We thank Governor Larry Hogan and State Superintendent Karen Salmon for their guidance on the return to in-person instruction for local school districts. However, we are deeply disappointed by the last-minute announcement of this critical information for school systems,” the statement reads.

As the first day of school kicked off Monday, some parents on social media reported issues with their children logging in to the myMCPS Classroom portal.

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Maryam Shahzad

About Maryam Shahzad

Maryam is a reporter with Montgomery Community Media. She graduated from the University of Maryland in December with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. Previously, she was an intern with MCM. Maryam loves visual media and always says the movie is better than the book. She can be reached at mshahzad@mymcmedia.org or on Twitter @maryam_mcm.

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