Maryland education officials say ‘we must keep schools open’

As COVID-19 cases surge in the state, Maryland’s Department of Education released a statement Monday emphasizing the need to remain with in-person learning.

“When COVID-19 transmission increases and health measures become a necessity, schools must be the last places to close,” said State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury in the statement. “With unprecedented federal and State resources and tools, we can keep schools safely open for in-person, full-time learning.”

Schools in Prince George’s County, Md., and many neighboring jurisdictions, such as Virginia and Washington, D.C., quickly transitioned to virtual learning in light of the latest COVID numbers.

Throughout the MSDE statement, state officials emphasized potential loss to students’ education and mental well-being when forced to switch to virtual learning.

“Our objective is to keep children and staff safe in in-person classroom environments, because we know that out of school virtual learning is simply not as effective for many students as signaled by Maryland’s first marking period diminished academic achievement and increased achievement gaps,” said State Board President Clarence C. Crawford.

The MSDE statement also said switching to virtual learning should be a last resort for schools. In cases where there is no choice but to exit classrooms, there should be an aggressive plan to reopen as quickly as possible.

“Only on a case-by-case basis under the most exigent of circumstances and in close consultation with State and local health departments will MSDE support a temporary transition of a school system to virtual learning,” the statement said. “However, local school systems that need to temporarily close schools for virtual learning will need to immediately and aggressively work to bring students back to in-person normal attendance and learning as required by Education Article § 7-103.”

On Friday, Prince George’s County Public Schools announced they were switching to virtual learning from Dec. 20 through Jan. 14, 2022, following a week where at least 60 schools and offices in the system reported COVID-19 cases. In addition, concerns and anxiety about working conditions and health safety had caused severe staffing shortages.

On Fox News Sunday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan criticized the decision by Prince George’s Co.

“It’s a big deal and a terrible mistake and something that we’re very opposed to,” Hogan said. “We all want to keep our kids safe, but we’ve got protocols in place. There’s a hundred cases in Prince George’s County out of 131,000 students.”

He added that shutting down the schools after known obstacles with distance learning would be outrageous and wrong.

During the same interview, Hogan also said COVID-19 hospitalization in Maryland had risen 150% over the previous two weeks, which are the highest numbers since the spring of 2021.

WTOP’s Ivy Lyons and Colleen Kelleher contributed to this report.

Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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