Maryland children won’t return to classes until at least late April in further efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, state officials announced Wednesday morning.
During a press conference, state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said schools will remain closed through April 24, extending a previous order by four weeks. She said it’s possible the closures could last longer.
She also said the state is considering extending the academic year. The last day of school for MCPS students is scheduled for June 15.
“While it is too early to definitively say exactly when schools will reopen, we will continue to assess the situation as we move forward,” Salmon said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the new reopening date “somewhat aspirational” and said the state will not allow students to return to school if the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 124,000 schools across the country were closed for some period of time, affecting more than 55 million students, according to data collected by Education Week.
Over the past month, Hogan has taken several incremental actions, stopping just shy of issuing a shelter-in-place order, to try to slow the spread of the virus.
Most businesses are closed, aside from what the federal government has deemed essential, gatherings of more than 10 people are banned and people are urged to stay home as much as possible.
On Wednesday, Hogan said he has requested a presidential disaster declaration for the state, which would provide funding to support state and local governments’ efforts to fight the disease.
In one of the earliest announcements, state officials ordered all public schools to be closed for two weeks, through March 27, so officials could “evaluate” the situation, but hinted that the closures could last longer.
In Montgomery County, the move leaves more than 166,000 students and nearly 24,000 staff members without classes to report to for at least another month.
A long-term teaching plan for MCPS students had not been released as of Wednesday morning. It was submitted to state officials for review last week, Salmon said. State officials are reviewing each school system’s plan and “determining what resources” the state needs to deploy to ensure equitable learning opportunities across the state, she said.
Representatives of local teacher and administrator unions and parent-teacher associations worked with MCPS to create and revise the plan, according to organization leaders.
In a message to MCPS families on Sunday, Superintendent Jack Smith wrote that he expected a longer-term schools closure and the school district will “launch the first phase of a distance learning plan” on March 30 “so that students can begin to have structured school experiences.”
Smith’s message did not provide any information about how the system would work, aside from saying it would provide “multiple ways to access learning” and provide interaction between staff and students and “some degree of normalcy” to students.
Smith’s message largely focused on accepting there are many unknowns in an unprecedented situation.
“[T]he fact is, we do not know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. We do not know how this will unfold,” Smith wrote. “What we do know is that we are all in this together and we are better together.”
During a teleconference with the school board on Monday, Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight said MCPS plans to distribute Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots to students who do not have access to devices at home.
The technology will allow students to access MCPS’ education materials for virtual learning. In a message to community members following the announcement schools will be closed into late April, MCPS wrote that “additional information will be shared” about “continuity of learning plans, distribution of Chromebook devices and much more” on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Maryland Board of Education voted unanimously to let education officials pursue a waiver exempting schools from administering state tests this spring.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 423 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Maryland, 127 of which were in Montgomery County. Four Marylanders have died from the coronavirus.
During Wednesday morning’s press conference, Salmon said child care centers can remain open, but that space should be prioritized for people working in essential fields like health care and law enforcement.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at email@example.com