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by Judith Hruz
Just days before Montgomery County Public Schools was set to begin the new year with virtual-only instruction, Gov. Larry Hogan said state school districts must begin getting children back into classrooms and made it clear he wants school buildings to begin opening for instruction in some manner before the end of the calendar year.
He authorized all school systems in the state to safely and fully reopen, citing decreasing positivity rates and other favorable data as the coronavirus health crisis continues.
County Executive Marc Elrich, who for several weeks had been asking for state guidance for non-public school that want to open with in-person instruction or a hybrid of in-person and virtual, Tweeted a statement following Hogan’s press conference, saying, “Montgomery County, like other school districts in the state, spent months planning for opening the school year virtually. Data was used to drive decisions so that children, teachers and education professionals were safe.”
Elrich also said, “Dropping this news, without warning, days before the start of school, causes unneeded disruption. County leaders and health officers should have been consulted, and at least warned, that this was coming.”
During an Aug. 27 press conference, Hogan said data has gotten “dramatically better” since some school districts in the state made decisions to offer virtual-only instruction.
The day before, however, and in previous weeks, Elrich and county health officers have said although the data is improving, it is not yet good enough to risk the health and safety of students, teachers, school employees and parents.
The Montgomery County Board of Education and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) officials thanked Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon for their guidance on the return to in-person instruction.
“However, we are deeply disappointed by the last-minute announcement of this critical information for school systems,” according to a statement released after the governor’s press conference. “MCPS will begin the school year in a virtual-only instructional model on Aug. 31, as scheduled. We know many in our community will have questions about what this new guidance means for our students. Please allow us time to thoughtfully assess these important developments and continue to prepare for a successful start to the school year.”
Montgomery school officials have said they are working with county health officials on a process to bring in small groups of students, such as students in specific special education programs, to help those students get needed in-person instruction.
The county school system has said it will offer virtual instruction through the first semester, which ends in late January.
“Our focus remains on the academic needs and the health and safety of our students and staff,” the school board and school officials said.
Hogan said state law allows each school system to make its own decision on whether to reopen in-person, virtual-only or a hybrid of the two.
But he said it is “not acceptable” for a school system not to have a plan for bringing students back in some form, and Salmon said she is strongly encouraging school systems across the state to re-evaluate opening school buildings after the first quarter.
“I think we’re going to go back and put pressure on them,” he said, adding, “We’re going to do what we can within the law.”
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County elementary school teacher, said, “At a time when educators are focused on working hard to make the best of this year for students, the governor and superintendent are focused on throwing school communities under the bus. We need collaboration and problem-solving, not political theater.”
The statement continued: The governor and superintendent abdicated responsibility for creating reopening standards and told districts to come up with their own plans, indicating appropriate confidence that local school systems would do what is best for students. Today, they chose to ambush and second guess the hard decisions that local boards of education, parents and educators have made to keep students and schools safe.”
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