ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made his desire to reopen all state schools as soon as possible crystal clear Thursday during a press conference regarding the pandemic's effect on education. Right off the bat, he definitively stated that there was "no public health reason" to continue keeping students out of schools.
"I’m here today to talk about the terrible learning loss caused by the disruption of the pandemic and why it’s so critical we work to get all students back to classrooms," Hogan said. "This really isn't controversial. The science is clear."
The governor called on all county school systems to return to hybrid in-person instruction no later than March 1. He noted that all school systems in Maryland have been authorized to reopen for in-person instruction since August.
"Many of the school systems in Maryland have been successful in getting at least some of their students back in the classroom, especially those kids with special needs," Hogan said.
Hogan reiterated that reopening schools was not only a top priority of the state of Maryland, but for the Biden administration, as the president signed an executive order Thursday supporting the safe reopening of schools. In a letter to the president of the Maryland State Education Association, Cheryl Bost, Hogan cited data from Dr. Fauci, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Maryland Coronavirus Task Force to back up his claims.
"The president’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said that '[t]he default position we should have is to bring the children back to school or keep them in school,'" Hogan wrote in his letter to Bost.
Hogan announced that in January, Maryland's COVID positivity rate had dropped nearly 20% to 7.66%, the case rate had dropped by 26% to 39.5 and hospitalizations had declined by 13%.
Earlier in the month, Montgomery County Public School's Board of Education voted to push back the start of in-person learning to March 15, at the earliest.
"The safety of students and staff has, and will continue to, guide our return to in-person learning," MCPS said in a statement. "The current numbers simply do not support a return at this time."
The school district's metrics for returning to classrooms are a test positivity rate below 5% or a case rate of 15 per 100,000 residents or less; currently, those metrics sit at 6.8% and 42.7, respectively.
The governor emphasized that the state would prioritize vaccinations for teachers and education staff, and would ensure that sufficient PPE was available for all schools. Hogan said more than 2 million masks, 200,000 face shields, hand sanitizer, gowns, gloves and "unlimited coronavirus testing" would be made available to every county.
Maryland State Department of Education Superintendent Karen Salmon recently allocated an additional $781 million in federal relief for school systems to address the effects of the pandemic; a total of more than $1.2 billion was made available under the most recent stimulus package.
"It's now estimated that by the end of the school year the cumulative learning loss for students could equate to at least 5 to as many as 9 months, on average, with the losses disproportionately impacting students of color and low income and disadvantaged students even more," Hogan said. "It is simply unconscionable. It is abundantly clear that the toll of keeping students out of school far exceeds any risk of having students in school where they belong."
According to Maryland's "School Reopening Guidance" report, the state has had 119 school outbreaks reported since the beginning of the pandemic, with 57% of the associated cases in students and 43% among teachers and other staff.
"I want to make it clear to the teacher's union that we fully expect teachers to make every effort to return to the classrooms," Hogan said, citing other state leaders who have cut off pay, threatened to take away teaching licenses or offered vaccines only to school systems who commit to in-person learning. "We do not want to have to take such actions here in Maryland. But if school systems do not immediately begin a good faith effort to return to classrooms, we will explore every legal avenue at our disposal."