By BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s COVID-19 health metrics have improved enough for all schools to have some in-person instruction this fall, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday.
All of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions are starting the school year with online instruction, but 16 of them plan some in-person school instruction for K-12 this fall. Hogan said it “doesn’t make any sense” for eight jurisdictions to not have plans to return students to the classroom. Still, Hogan said it will remain up to local school officials to decide.
“We’re going to go back and ask them to reconsider, but also the numbers have gotten dramatically better than they were as they were going through some of these decisions a month, or two or three ago,” Hogan said.
Some of the state’s larger jurisdictions that have had the highest number of cornavirus cases are among the eight that have not submitted plans, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in the suburbs of the nation’s capital.
State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon encouraged all school systems to re-evaluate modes of instruction by the end of the first quarter and to consider the significant improvement in measures of the virus in the state.
“Today, in light, of those improving numbers and with these specific metrics provided by the Department of Health, I am strongly encouraging local school systems to re-evaluate their mode of instruction by the end of the first quarter of the upcoming school year, especially if they have indicated that they are maintaining a virtual deliver system until January of 2021,” Salmon said.
Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy health secretary, said hospitalizations and positivity rates have declined over the summer, and all jurisdictions have dropped below a 5% positivity rate for the first time.
“Across the state, we are now at levels that we believe can allow all schools to move forward with some level of in-person learning,” Chan said.
Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, criticized the announcement. Bost, who leads a union representing more than 74,000 educators, said the governor and superintendent “abdicated responsibility for creating reopening standards” and previously indicated “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,” Bost said.
Without adequate state and federal funding to help schools open safely, Bost said, the announcement was “a recipe for chaos, confusion, distrust, and deepening the inequities that too many of our students face.”
Salmon noted that some jurisdictions had small groups of students in classrooms over the summer, and they showed how it could be done safely with desks at a distance, the wearing of masks and limited capacity in classrooms.
“Nearly everyone agrees that there is no substitute for in-person instruction. It is essential that we all work together on flexible hybrid plans to safely get some of our kids back into classrooms and into healthy and supportive learning environments,” Hogan said.
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