@BryanRenbaum

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said on Wednesday that local jurisdictions will be given flexibility in deciding how they wish to proceed for the upcoming school year.

“In March it was a public health imperative for the state to close all schools in an immediate emergency phase addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the state firmly in recovery-local systems will have the flexibility to determine in consultation with their local health departments how they will open and which groups of students and staff will be able to re-enter buildings.”

Salmon added: “Continuing in Stage 2 of recovery — just as schools could begin limited in-person summer instruction — schools can choose to reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. Depending on conditions in their locality, school systems may be more restrictive than the requirements outlined in the state recovery plan.”

Salmon said school systems that choose to have in-person learning must follow recommended safety guidelines such as requiring all students and staff to wear face coverings and participating in contact tracing to keep track of positive cases.

Salmon spoke at a news conference with Gov. Larry Hogan that was held at the State House in Annapolis. Her announcement comes as nine of the state’s jurisdictions-including Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery counties-have already introduced plans to begin the upcoming school year with virtual learning. Some jurisdictions are still considering plans. They have until Aug. 14 to submit those plans to the State Board of Education.

Salmon first closed public schools in March with the possibility of reopening them before summer. Since that time, distance and online learning has replaced classroom instruction.

Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost urged school systems to opt for virtual learning for the beginning of the year.

“Many local systems in Maryland have already opted to begin the year with virtual learning, and we urge more systems to do the same for at least the first semester,” Bost, a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, said in a statement.

“Virtual learning is not a perfect solution, but it’s the safest and focusing on just one mode of education enables educators to direct their total attention to making it more rigorous and equitable. We must do all we can to get the virus under control so that we can safely return to in-person learning—which we know is most beneficial to our students over the long-term. We also know that the success of this school year and our ability to reopen schools as soon as possible will depend on a commitment to funding from federal, state, and local levels that we have not seen to date. Educators are committed to doing all that we can to make virtual learning as successful as possible, and eagerly await the day when public health conditions allow us to return to our schools and classrooms with our students for the in-person learning that we know is better for children.”

At Wednesday’s news conference, Hogan urged Marylanders to remain vigilant in the fight against the virus.

“I want to make very clear to the people of Maryland, again, that this crisis is not over and your actions may help determine whether we see a resurgence of the virus here in Maryland.”

Hogan said he is concerned by the rise in infections among Marylanders under age 35. The governor noted that the infection rate among that group is substantially higher than that of Marylanders over age 35. He urged young people to avoid large crowds and practice social distancing.

The state’s positivity rate is below-4.5%, which is better than that of the majority of states in the country.

Maryland has tested over 1,000,000 people for COVID-19.