Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday that all public schools in Maryland can begin to safely reopen, but said the ultimate decision is still left up to county boards of education.
“In order for us to keep moving forward and to keep making progress, it is absolutely critical that we begin the process of getting our children safely and gradually back into the classroom,” Hogan said.
Hogan made the announcement at a news briefing in Annapolis alongside Karen Salmon, state superintendent of public schools and Jinlene Chan, acting deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health.
In Frederick County, the public school year starts Monday with a mostly virtual learning plan as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“Some of the county school boards have not even attempted to develop any safe reopening plans which would bring any kids back for any form of in-person instruction,” Hogan said. “This is simply not acceptable.”
He added, however, that he would not override the decisions of local school boards, as those bodies have the authority under state law.
“I mean, this is the way our laws work,” Hogan said. “The locally elected and school boards have the priority to make these decisions. ... We don’t have the authority to tell the school systems what they must do.”
Salmon called on all school boards to evaluate their mode of instruction at the end of the first quarter, to see if in-person instruction can be expanded.
The Board of Education in Frederick County decided that the first semester of school would be virtual for all students, except for small, specific, targeted groups, The Frederick News-Post reported in late July. Those groups would likely be marginalized populations like special education students and English Language (EL) students, who could struggle under a fully virtual format.
Board of Education President Brad Young said Thursday evening he hadn’t yet reviewed Hogan’s announcement, but added it “was getting to the game a little bit late,” given that his board and others statewide had developed and voted on reopening plans weeks ago.
He said it’s possible, but not probable that plans could change after the first quarter, but said health metrics would have to greatly improve for teachers, administrators and others to feel safe returning more students into schools.
“We said throughout the first semester ... so unless something drastic were to happen, I couldn’t see it changing,” Young said.