Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said his administration is urging all school districts to begin preparing for a return to hybrid learning by no later than March 1.
The governor said that virtual learning models for schooling had disproportionately impacted low-income students and students of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hogan said the state Board of Education had approved “safe and effective” reopening plans for all of Maryland’s school systems, and that state health officials would soon provide additional “science-based protocols” for safely reopening schools.
With the implementation of Phase 1b of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, educators are now eligible for vaccines.
However, Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, said that the number of teachers who had been vaccinated should not play into a school system’s reopening decision.
“I do encourage all education staff to get a vaccine when it becomes available to them. However — and I would emphasize — that school reopening decision should not be based on the availability of vaccination or the level of vaccinations among staff,” Chan said.
The new guidance provides two options for schools to safely reopen, according to Chan.
The first option would include:
- Daily in-person learning for students with disabilities or special needs, and those who have struggled learning remotely, and students in career or technology paths
- Elementary schools would have the option of phased daily in-person learning or hybrid learning if health and safety requirements call for it
- Secondary students would either be in a hybrid learning model or phased in daily in-person learning if health safety protocols could be implemented.
Chan said option one is what the Maryland Department of Health is recommending.
Option two would have:
- Daily in-person learning for students with unique educational needs
- A hybrid or phased in daily in-person learning for elementary students
- Remote or hybrid learning for secondary students.
“Our guidance still emphasizes the need to implement all of the health and medical safety measures that we have already outlined in our guidance … distancing, masking, cleaning and disinfection continues to be the cornerstone of making sure that our students and staff are safe in schools,” Chan said.
State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said funds were being made available to schools to help mitigate the learning losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents would still be able to decide if remote learning is a better fit for their children and families under the new push to return students to classrooms.
Unlimited coronavirus testing has been made available to every county, Hogan said in his announcement.
The state will also provide 2 million face masks; 200,000 face shields; hand sanitizer; gowns and gloves to schools to assist in the reopening process.
Salmon and a number of educators and school staff from around the state received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at Thursday’s press conference.
Reactions to Hogan’s announcement
Maryland State Educators Association (MSEA) President Cheryl Bost told WTOP they received the news of the Hogan administration’s push to bring schools back to hybrid learning in a letter she described as “interesting,” around 2 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s the first letter we’ve every received from Governor Hogan,” Bost said. “He makes the assertion that educators have thrown up roadblocks to reopening schools, and I find that very disingenuous.”
Bost said MSEA has been working with schools systems and the state government to navigate what it would take to get schools reopened safely. The organization was among those pushing to get teachers added to a higher priority group for the COVID-19 vaccines so that schools could reopen sooner, according to Bost.
During the press conference Thursday, Hogan cited teachers in other states who had faced legal ramifications and pay freezes for refusing to reopen schools, and said that while he did not want to go that route, he would look into legal options if educators did not make good faith efforts to return to classrooms by March.
“These educators — from our meal service providers, our IT folks, custodians, teachers, counselors — have been working so hard to then hear their governor and state superintendent say, ‘Well, we’re gonna threaten you with your jobs, or your pay, or something,’ when they’re going above and beyond,” Bost said. “So, that’s not collaborative, that’s not gonna get resolved and, as educators, we know it’s about relationships and collaboration, not threats.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson issued the following statement in response to Hogan’s press conference: “Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) continues to assess teaching and learning options as we work towards returning small groups of students to school buildings this spring.”
“We appreciate the patience and flexibility that our students, staff and families have shown throughout this pandemic,” Goldson added. “Their health and safety continue to remain our highest priority.”
Montgomery County Public Schools said in a statement it’s concerned about Hogan’s announcement.
“While we appreciate the commitment to provide additional resources to assist local districts with reopening efforts, we are deeply concerned by the abrupt change to the health metrics guidance set forth by the state given that we are in the height of the pandemic,” the school system said in a statement.
It added its focus “remains on the academic needs and the health and safety of our students and staff.”
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.
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