Fight over closing private schools in Montgomery Co. continues with memo from state health secretary

Maryland’s top health official has weighed in on a fight in Montgomery County over closing private schools because of the coronavirus pandemic, issuing a memo to all county health officers, saying, “it is the health policy of the state of Maryland that nonpublic schools not be closed in a blanket manner.”

The memo from Maryland Secretary of Health Robert Neall underscores the executive order issued by Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday that stripped local health officers of the ability to close schools — public or private — on anything other than a case-by-case basis.

The memo explains that it’s the state’s position that all schools be given the opportunity to come up with plans to comply with COVID-19 guidance from federal and state government officials.

Though health officers in Maryland serve county governments and Baltimore City, they are state employees.

The health secretary’s memo comes the morning after Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, who’s also named in a lawsuit of private schools and parents, issued a new directive calling for private schools to remain closed until Oct. 1

Gayles said his decision was based on community spread of COVID-19, and he said the transmission and case rates remain too high to open private schools safely.

Montgomery County’s public schools have made the decision to remain closed and continue virtual learning for the first semester of the coming school year.

Gayles, County Executive Marc Elrich and the county are named in the lawsuit filed in federal court, challenging Gayles’ initial order that was issued Aug. 1 and took effect Monday morning.

Timothy Maloney, a lawyer for two private schools and several families with children in private schools, said Gayles had acted in defiance of the governor’s order and that he’s asking a federal judge to “enjoin” Gayles’ order. The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14.

In response to Neall’s memo, Mary Anderson, Montgomery County’s spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email, “The county just received the memo this morning. It is being evaluated regarding any potential impact it may have upon the public health directive.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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