With declining coronavirus positivity rates and vaccines becoming more readily available it is time for Maryland’s students to return to their classrooms, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday.
“There is no public health reason for school boards to be keeping students out of schools. None. This really isn’t controversial. The science is clear. And nearly everyone wants to get our kids back into school,” Hogan said at a news conference at St. John’s College in Annapolis.
Hogan called on the state’s 24 school boards to make a concerted effort for students to be able to return to hybrid/in-person learning by March 1 at the latest. Hogan emphasized that the state’s Department of Education has done due diligence to make sure that reopening plans are consistent with recommended safety protocols, such providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), maintaining social distancing practices, and vaccinating teachers.
Hogan noted that state law does not permit the governor to order to schools to reopen because that decision lies with each individual jurisdiction. However, Hogan issued a stern warning to the state’s teachers union, saying he will use what power he does have to ensure that Maryland’s students return to the classroom.
“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….I want to make it perfectly clear that I will do everything I possibly can do within the law to push to get all of Maryland’s children back into the classrooms.”
Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan seconded Hogan’s comments about safety. Chan said medical research shows that there is little evidence to suggest that having children return to school presents a significant exposure risk provided that recommended safety protocols are followed. Chan said her department has issued new guidance to implement a multi-phased return to the classroom that will prioritize students with disabilities and diverse learning needs.
State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said the near year-long period of virtual learning has had deleterious consequences on many of Maryland’s students.
“The impacts of closed schools on our students have been severe. And we must make every effort to mitigate any further learning loss from this period of disrupted instruction.”
Both House Minority Leader Nic Kipke and House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, both of whom are Republicans, praised Hogan’s call to reopen the state’s schools.
“I applaud the Governor’s call on Maryland’s schools to reopen to in-person learning by March 1,” Kipke said in a statement. “There are school systems all over the world have opened safely. Maryland has prioritized teachers and education staff to receive COVID-19 vaccines. The safety infrastructure is in place and it is time to open schools.”
“Reopening schools has been a priority for Maryland’s families,” Szeliga said in a statement. “Many parents have struggled to meet the educational needs of their children during this pandemic. Students have battled a myriad of obstacles and many have fallen behind. It is hard to say how long it will take our students to recover from the lapses in their education, they must return to in-person learning as soon as possible.”
There are 334,519 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Thursday morning, according to the Department of Health, and 6,560 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is at 7.66%, which is well above CDC recommended guidelines for containment but is nevertheless an improvement from last month’s numbers. Maryland has conducted nearly 6.6 million COVID-19 tests.