Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced on Thursday that all schools in the state had the authorization to reopen.
The Governor noted that there is “no substitute” for in-person instruction, and cited the state’s improved COVID-19 metrics as the basis for reopening.
Once considered an at-risk segment of the population, the positivity rate among Marylanders under the age of 35 has declined by 44 percent since July 23 to 3.79 percent, according to the Governor’s office.
Among residents over the age of 35, that positivity rate has dropped below 3 percent to 2.97 percent.
“There is broad and overwhelming agreement that finding a way to begin safely returning children to classrooms must be a priority. There is no substitute for in-person instruction,” Hogan said.
He noted that the state was not ordering schools to reopen, but that districts would offer “strong incentives” to provide in-person instruction.
State Superintendent Karen Salmon said $10 million in grant funding would be made available to help schools move toward in-person instruction.
Salmon also recommended that schools look at reopening after the first marking period.
Eight counties – including suburban D.C. counties Prince George’s County and Montgomery County – do not have plans in place for reopening.
Sixteen school districts have established plans that integrate some in-person education.
“We don’t have the authority to tell the school systems what they must do,” said Hogan. “They have that authority, but we are giving the metrics which they asked for. We are providing incentives, financial incentives, for them to get open and we are all saying, you have the authority to now start to open.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools will not change plans to stay all virtual until at least 2021, according to PGCPS Board Chair Dr. Alvin Thornton.
”People have to plan. Our teachers have to plan, our staff has to plan, etc. And we have a plan that I think has been universally accepted and we will make an adjustment if necessary in January,” Thornton said. “We don’t want to politicize this in any way. We don’t want to separate the state in any way. We simply want to respond to the virus and the needs of our children.”
A spokeswoman for Charles County Public Schools says the district is already looking to bring certain students back as soon as possible, including students with special needs.
In a statement, Montgomery County Public Schools is asking for time to assess new developments.
The Maryland State Education Association, which represents educators, calls the announcement an ambush.
“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,” said Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost in a statement.