Opinion: Right before start of school year, Hogan pits parents against teachers

Opinion: Right before start of school year, Hogan pits parents against teachers

By intentionally creating wedges, governor has been irresponsible

| Published:

On Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he expects all public schools in Maryland to reopen with an in-person component. It was not an order, though, because he lacks that authority.

Watching the press conference, I was brought back to mid-March, when Hogan frequently hosted press conferences detailing swift, deliberate actions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

This time, the tone was palpably different. Perhaps it was because there was only one more business day left before the Fall 2020 semester starts.

Parents like me and teachers have been preparing to carry out various reopening plans. We’ve spent months of virtual meetings, draft proposals, surveys and anxious text exchanges with friends and family about how we are managing our individual situations.

Hogan’s actions are inexplicable and inexcusable. He took the podium knowing that eight counties across the state already made plans for full virtual instruction for part of the fall or possibly all of it.

Then he created a divide of teachers against parents. He chose to blame rather than accept responsibility. He chose to be a politician instead of a public servant.

We cannot let his words get in the way of the truth.

Montgomery County Public Schools has been drafting, redrafting, seeking input from community members, hosting virtual meetings and working with teachers, parents, students and local health officials on the safest course of action to reopen schools.

MCPS’ first reopening draft was released on July 11. The Board of Education approved the final version on Aug. 25.

Hogan was not interested in public schools’ reopening plans until it was too late for them to act. His administration failed to provide guidance, including metrics.

But that did not prevent the administration from being present and alert on Aug. 1 to criticize Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles from stopping nonpublic schools from having in-person instruction through Oct. 1.

On Aug. 6, Maryland Health Secretary Robert Neall issued a memo that prompted Gayles to rescind his directive, thus allowing nonpublic schools to reopen without proper guidance.

On Aug. 14, the Maryland State Department of Education expected to receive all reopening plans to evaluate. This is about two weeks before classes begin, when no substantive change can be expected to be made.

MCPS educates around 166,000 students and employs more than 13,000 teachers and more than 10,000 other staff members. It is the largest school district in Maryland.

Hogan knew that deliberately delaying his directive would cause division. This was intentional.

Out of frustration, I put together a timeline of events for perspective on what happened over the summer and when. The metrics presented at the news conference are what Maryland counties and jurisdictions needed in May to appropriately plan for reopening. The expectation that any significant change can happen in less than 24 hours is unreasonable.

Hogan’s indifference to hard choices forced on school boards is irresponsible. Why else then make these bold statements this close to school opening? I offer three reasons.

First, as governor, he understands that the decision on how to operate public schools is not under his authority. He can demand they open, and this decision will please many constituents.

If the opening of the schools is a failure, he is protected. If they do not open and some are upset, he can claim he did not have the authority, but offered leadership in demanding their reopening, right before the start of the term. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too.

Second, by not providing metrics, Hogan gave nonpublic schools an advantage by signaling in early August his support of their opening while ignoring the request of the largest providers of education in the state — public schools.

It is no secret that Hogan is pro-vouchers and school choice, and this decision is another example of his political view. His view is severely impacting the equity and education of the majority of Marylanders. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is an opportunity to put a wedge between parents and teachers. By focusing on unions and their power in our community, Hogan hopes parents will paint teachers as villains.

His call to action was to pressure community members to grow frustrated with teachers and unions. To shift the blame for his lack of leadership and for not providing hard-working teachers basic guidance on metrics to be used for phased reopening.

I will not stand by this lie.

We are in this situation because Hogan, as he stated, has spent 90% of his time on the COVID-19 response since March, but had no time to provide counties and jurisdictions proper guidance.

This is a calculated political decision. Parents and teachers must remain on the side of students and continue to support each other in-person or online. We are in this together.

Gabriela Gillespie lives in North Bethesda.

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Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat encourages readers to send us their thoughts about local topics we have covered for consideration as an op-ed piece in our Saturday newsletter. Email them to editorial@bethesdamagazine.com. We require a name and hometown for publication. We also require a phone number (not for publication) for us to verify who wrote the piece. Please provide a source for any facts in your piece that were not part of our coverage; if they can’t be verified, they likely will be omitted.

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