Hogan Urges Maryland Schools to Offer In-Person Learning by March 1

Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday urged all school districts in Maryland to offer some form of classroom instruction by March 1. Hogan’s urging comes days after President Joe Biden released a plan aiming to reopen most K-8 schools his first 100 days in office.

Hogan said that since August the state has authorized all school districts to reopen public schools, but many, including Montgomery County Public Schools, have continued to exclusively offer virtual learning.

The state released updated guidance for school districts to begin offering some form of hybrid, in person learning. State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon also announced at Thursday’s news briefing $780 million in federal relief for school systems to address learning loss issues caused by the pandemic.

Hogan and Salmon sent a letter to Maryland State Education Association asking teacher union leaders to support the March 1 goal.

“It is estimated that by the end of this upcoming school year, the cumulative learning loss for students could equate to five to nine months on average with the losses disproportionately impacting students of color and low-income students,” the letter says. “Studies have indicated that school reopenings do not significantly increase community spread or contribute to rising hospitalization rates.”

Hogan said at Thursday’s press briefing that the decision to reopen public schools ultimately rests with the elected school boards in each district. The issue of getting students back to the classrooms is a bipartisan one, Hogan said, noting that it’s supported by Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci. He added that contact tracing data also shows that the risk of spread in minimum.

“There is no public health reason for school boards to be keeping students out of schools,” Hogan said. “The toll of keeping students out of school far exceeds the potential risk of having students in schools where they belong.”

On Jan. 12, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith announced that the school system was delaying its goal of offering in person learning by Feb. 1 to March 15 because of coronavirus health metrics. The MCPS Board of Education is scheduled to meet Feb. 23 to determine if health metrics are allowed for a safe reopening.

Hogan noted that in Chicago, South Carolina, and Ohio teachers that don’t commit to returning to the classroom are penalized. Hogan says if school systems can’t commit to returning to the classroom, Maryland “will explore…legal avenue[s].”

Dr. Jinlene Chan, the acting deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health who oversees the state’s vaccine distribution, spoke about the state’s new health guidance when it comes to reopening schools.

Chan said there are four health points for schools to note when it comes to offering in person learning:

  1. There’s little evidence that school reopenings is the main driver for community spread.
  2. Transmission in schools is uncommon when there are effective mitigation strategies in place.
  3. Children younger than 10 are less likely to spread the virus.
  4. Research shows that school closures are causing students to fall behind academically. It’s also affecting mental health and services like school meals.

The state of Maryland is currently in vaccine phase 1B, which prioritizes seniors over the age of 75 and essential workers—including teachers. which prioritizes residents ages 65 to 74, on Jan. 25.

Montgomery County is still in vaccine phase 1A, prioritizing healthcare workers. Montgomery County Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Dr. Earl Stoddard said Tuesday that the county hopes to start vaccinating seniors in group 1B later this week. Stoddard noted it would take the county multiple weeks to vaccinate the 75+ population before moving onto essential workers in the 1B group.

Chan said at the news briefing, “I do encourage all educational staff to get a vaccine when it becomes available to them. However—and I would emphasize—that school reopening decisions should not be based on the availability of vaccination or the level of vaccination among staff. Again, Maryland has had much success in some settings across the state already in reopening schools despite not having a vaccine up until now.”

Council President Tom Hucker was critical of the governor’s goal on Twitter, saying that the state needed to fix the “botched” vaccine rollout.

“Gov: before threatening to open schools, you might want to give us the # of vaccines we keep asking for. We need competence, not threats,” Hucker tweeted.

Hogan isn’t the only governor to urge public schools in its state to reopen by March 1. The first day of March reopening goal was also recently proposed by Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine (R) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).

Related Posts:

MCPS Hopeful Vaccines Will Instill Confidence for Students’ and Teachers’ Return to School

MCPS Delays Conditional Return to In-Person Learning Until March 15

Hogan: Maryland Will Enter Vaccination Phase 1B Next Week 

County Unlikely to Move to Vaccination Phase 1C Next Week

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About Deirdre Byrne

Deirdre Byrne is a social media coordinator for Montgomery Community Media. She can be reached at dbyrne@mymcmedia.org or on twitter at @DeirdreByrneMCM.

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