MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Some Montgomery County private school parents said they are seeking legal action after the county announced its decision to prohibit nonpublic schools from reopening in the fall.
Montgomery County health officials said Friday that all nonpublic schools must remain closed for in-person instruction through Oct. 1, 2020. Montgomery County Public Schools announced recently that they would offer virtual learning through Jan. 29, 2021, citing health and public safety reasons.
Officials said that "nonpublic schools" are defined as any school in Montgomery County not affiliated with MCPS, including private schools, religious schools and independent schools.
“We were very blindsided as the parent body. I have not spoken with our principal yet, but as a parent body we were extremely blindsided,” Joyce Kraus Dyer, a Mary of Nazareth Catholic School parent and HSA President said. “Our staff has been working tirelessly over the summer to come up with a cohesive plan to be able to introduce our children back into school, which they've obviously been missing since March 13. It was a 19-page plan.”
Dyer said her child’s school had complied with CDC guidelines and state regulations. She said the school had already purchased more than 800 face shields for students and staff.
Dyer said she isn’t the only person upset by the announcement, she said some parents are in talks of taking legal action on behalf of private schools.
“We have a group of three over 3,000 now,” Dyer said. “Since yesterday morning we have a group of parents that are across Montgomery county in private schools and we are joining forces to represent the private schools. We really do feel that it's an overreach of the Montgomery County health officer to tell us that we cannot open, especially when we are meeting the CDC guidelines and the state regulations that the superintendent has set forth,” Dyer said.
Parents have since launched a petition and started a Facebook group that has had 3,000 people join since Friday.
However, not all parents are in support of keeping in-person learning closed. Sherri DePollar said she supports not having kids in the classroom and would consider moving her son back to public school if he had to return.
Montgomery County’s Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the decision to direct schools to remain closed for in-person learning was based on science and data.
He also said that there has been an increase in younger age groups testing positive for COVID-19.
“At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers,” Dr. Gayles said. “We have seen increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups, and this step is necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents.”
Officials said anyone who violates this order is guilty of a misdemeanor and faces up to one year in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.
County and state officials will reassess when in-person learning can begin for private and public schools later this fall.
As of July 31, Maryland has more than 88,000 cases of COVID-19 and 8,377 people under the age of 20 have tested positive for the virus. In Montgomery County specifically, there are 17,568 cases of COVID-19, and 750 people have died of the virus.
Over the weekend Gov. Larry Hogan condemned Montgomery County's decision to mandate private schools to go virtual-only during the fall semester and expressed such displeasure on his social media.
“They short-circuited the freedoms that are held by the religious institutions to make their own decisions based upon not only conscience but wisdom,” former private school teacher Matthew Arney said.