Federal lawsuit on Montgomery County private school reopenings still pending

Federal lawsuit on Montgomery County private school reopenings still pending

Attorney says plaintiffs waiting to see ‘how county health officer treats’ nonpublic schools

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A federal lawsuit challenging Montgomery County’s now-rescinded order forcing nonpublic schools to begin the academic year remotely will remain open, an attorney for the plaintiffs wrote in a statement on Monday.

Earlier this month, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles issued a health directive ordering nonpublic schools remain closed to in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan responded with an executive order overturning Gayles’ order, saying health departments cannot issue “blanket” closures of nonpublic schools.

Last week, Gayles issued a different health directive, citing a different law, again mandating schools remain closed for in-person classes. After again receiving pushback from state officials, Gayles rescinded his order on Friday.

In his order, Gayles wrote that he still believes it is necessary for nonpublic schools to remain closed to “protect the public” based “on the current state of surveillance and epidemiological data.”

After Gayles issued his first order, a group of six families and two Catholic schools filed a federal lawsuit arguing that Gayles was unconstitutionally restricting freedoms of religion and gathering, and that he did not have the authority to force the schools to remain closed.

In a statement on Monday afternoon, Tim Maloney, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, wrote that a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Friday has been canceled, but the group does not intend to withdraw the lawsuit until they “see how the County Health Officer treats religious and private schools going forward.”

The lawsuit said local private schools have invested “millions” in retrofitting their buildings and buying equipment to safely reopen.

“Now is not the time for litigation but for cooperation,” Maloney wrote. “Schools and parents seek to collaborate with the County Health Officer as they make safe reopening decisions. … We believe the County Health Officer will be impressed by the extraordinary investment and planning undertaken by these schools, and their commitment to the safety of the community.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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