MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday that Maryland schools should reopen for in-person learning, citing improved health metrics. But Montgomery County leaders say otherwise, questioning the move all together.
The governor authorized all of Maryland’s public schools to begin “safely reopening”, adding jurisdictions like Montgomery and Prince George’s counties do not have plans to bring any students back to classrooms this year.
He asked that school boards to look to create hybrid plans to get kids back in the classroom.
"There is no substitute for in-person instruction," Hogan said. "Every single day I hear from parents all across the state who are extremely frustrated with the fact that even though our health metrics statewide, and in every single county, look great and are continuing to dramatically improve, some of the county school boards have not even attempted to develop any safe reopening plans that would bring any kids back for any form of in-person instruction."
"This is simply not acceptable," he added.
On Saturday, Montgomery County’s top officials responded to the Governor’s request.
“We are dismayed and perplexed that Governor Hogan made this announcement just days before students return to school,” a joint statement from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and County Council said.
The statement said Montgomery County spent months planning on pening the school year virtually, and that officials did consider a hybrid in-person model. But after review and consultation with health experts, they decided to teach virtually.
“Switching plans for a school system with 165,000 students and 24,000 staff cannot happen overnight,” the statement read. “MCPS has outlined a blended virtual learning model that, when the time is right, will be implemented. Until that time, we request that the Governor support our local school system and its deliberative approach to educating children in the face of this pandemic.”
The Montgomery County Board of Education also said they would be continuing with their previous plans for reopening schools, planning on beginning the 20-21 school year on Aug. 31.
"We thank Governor Larry Hogan and State Superintendent Karen Salmon for their guidance on the return to in-person instruction for local school districts," a spokesperson for the board said. "However, we are deeply disappointed by the last-minute announcement of this critical information for school systems. MCPS will begin the school year in a virtual-only instructional model on August 31, as scheduled."
Though Hogan emphasized that the state cannot force schools to reopen, those that do would receive "incentives."
"Our administration has committed $345 million more, for our kids, in additional educational funding through the federal CARES Act for K-12 technology funding, competitive innovation grants to address academic accessibility, remote learning enhancements, tutoring and learning programs for at-risk students and expanded broadband access for education," he said.
The governor said that Maryland's health metrics were doing "much better" than in other parts of the country, noting that the statewide positivity rate is down to 3.3%, a decline of more than 87% since it peaked on April 17. He highlighted CDC and WHO guidance that rates at or below 5% for more than 14 days were the starting point for moving forward with reopening plans.
This isn't the first time Montgomery County leaders have disagreed with Gov. Hogan on schools reopening.
On July 31, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued an executive order to prohibit Montgomery County private schools from reopening, citing health and safety reasons.
Gov. Larry Hogan then issued an amended emergency order that banned counties from “blanket school closures” and allowed private and parochial schools to have the power to keep schools open or move them online.
That led Gayles to issue a new order that prohibited nonpublic schools from reopening until at least Oct. 1.
The county later rescinded the order allowing nonpublic schools to reopen for in-person learning.