All Maryland public schools will be closed from Monday, March 16 through Friday, March 27.
As the state braces for more positive cases of COVID-19, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) made the announcement Thursday at a press conference with Gov. Larry Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon.
“Circumstances ... indicate that we are entering a new phase and we should expect the number of cases to rise,” Hogan said. “We believe all of us need to take serious actions to limit daily interactions and activities and prevent the virus from spreading.”
Vital student resources such as meals will continue to be delivered while schools are closed, said Salmon. MSDE is also developing plans to provide child care to students whose parents are emergency personnel workers, especially those in health care-related fields.
Salmon said all school buildings and buses will also be cleaned during the closure.
“It is crucial that we take immediate measures to slow the spread of [COVID-19] in school communities around the state,” Salmon said. “During the time of school closure, all public school buildings and school buses should be cleaned and disinfected to prevent spread of the virus upon the return of students and staff to school.”
Salmon has also recommended that school systems use days that were previously scheduled for spring break as makeup days after the closure ends.
Frederick County Public Schools is following the governor’s and MSDE’s direction and will be closed starting Monday. In a Find Out First alert, the school system said a link will be provided to families on Friday with more information and answers to frequently asked questions.
It is unclear what effect closing schools will have on the spread of COVID-19. Ten years ago, school closures helped with the H1N1 influenza strain, or swine flu, because kids were susceptible to the flu and could spread it before showing symptoms. It also helped to prevent kids from bringing the H1N1 flu strain into the schools. Early research suggests that kids are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by adults in their household, rather than kids infecting adults, said Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, Frederick County health officer.
“It is uncharted territory that we’re in for implementing school closures,” she said.
Hermine Bernstein, a program coordinator for Blessings in a Backpack — a nonprofit that works to feed FCPS students over weekends and breaks — said they have about five days’ worth of food left for students but that volunteers are working to increase that to seven.
For the first week of the closure, the nonprofit will use its blizzard bags and emergency snack bags usually used for snow days to provide enough food for students.
“Our volunteers have been amazing,” Bernstein said.
The nonprofit does not have food for the second week, Bernstein said, but added that the situation is fluid. If enough food is collected for the second week, the challenge then becomes delivering that food to students since they will no longer be physically in school. But Bernstein said she, community partners and volunteers are all working to figure out plans.
In response to the announcement by MSDE, Frederick Community College has decided to move to online instruction starting Monday, according to messages sent to students and faculty. That mimics similar plans outlined earlier this week by Hood College and Mount St. Mary’s University, which will both move to online learning after their spring breaks.
FCC students are asked not to be on campus or in the Monroe Center starting Monday through March 27. Faculty will communicate with students through email or Blackboard — an online educational platform the college utilizes.
All FCC events and any community events that were planned to be hosted on campus have been canceled.
Administrators and staff have been scheduled to continue working as normal over the next two weeks and will be available by phone or email.
Information for support services for students will be announced soon.
Staff writer Heather Mongilio contributed to this report.