Del. Brian Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) praised Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon’s recent decision to allow local jurisdictions flexibility in deciding how and when they wish to reopen for the upcoming school year.
“I welcome anytime you put it back at a local level because the closer you are to the situation the better the decisions you’re gonna make,” Chisholm told MarylandReporter.com in a phone interview on Thursday.
However, Chisholm, who is a vocal proponent of having students return to the classroom this fall, stressed that in-person learning is preferable to virtual learning in part because of the dilemma that the latter presents for many parents.
“I don’t know how they’re (parents) going to do it. If they have to choose between taking care of their child or children and going to work — I don’t know how they make that decision. I think there’s a lot of heartaches and a lot of tough decisions being made going forward. And, once again, I think it’s unnecessary.”
But not everyone said they agree.
Sen. Will Smith (D-Montgomery) said virtual learning is the safest method of instruction for the upcoming school year and that Salmon should have made virtual learning uniform policy for the state.
“I respect local jurisdictions being able to make the decisions that are the right size for them. But with something like the coronavirus…we don’t have a vaccination yet and we know the dire consequences of going back to life as normal because it’s not. And, so, I wish that there would have been a more uniform policy so that folks could have done a more phased-in approach and there would have more been clear guidance from the state level from the top down.”
Salmon announced her decision at a press conference with Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday. She said local school boards in consultation with their local health departments are free to decide whether they want to have virtual learning or in-person learning.
Salmon said schools that choose to have in-person learning must follow proper safety precautions such as requiring all students and staff to wear masks and reporting positive cases to local health departments. Salmon said all schools must submit plans for equitable learning to the State Board of Education before they can reopen.
Prior to Salmon’s announcement, nine of the state’s jurisdictions, including Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, and Montgomery counties-had already introduced plans to begin the 2020-21 school year with virtual learning. Some jurisdictions are still weighing their options. Those options include hybrid learning plans, in which some students may receive both in-person instruction and virtual instruction. School districts must submit their plans to the State Board of Education by Aug. 14.
There 80,836 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Thursday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 3,281 people in Maryland have died from the virus.
The state has tested more than 1,000,000 people for COVID-19 at its more than 200 testing sites. Maryland’s positivity rate is at 4.56%, which is better than that of most states in the country.