Beginning Monday, all public schools in the state, including Montgomery County Public Schools, will be closed through March 27 as the coronavirus spreads, placing Maryland among the most sweeping school closure efforts in the United States.
The closures affect more than 166,000 students in 208 schools in Montgomery County and nearly 900,000 statewide.
All public schools in Ohio and Indianapolis will also close for an extended period of time in response to the coronavirus.
“We really want to relay a message that this isn’t a vacation period as a bonus,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during an evening press conference following the announcement from state officials. “We’re doing this because a lot of people are at risk and we really want [students] to do your part.”
As of Thursday, there were 12 cases of coronavirus disease in Maryland, half of which were Montgomery County patients. Three local patients have recovered and are able to return to their normal activities, according to county health officials on Thursday night. The other three in Montgomery County are recovering well.
Early Thursday afternoon, Gov. Larry Hogan said a Prince George’s County man who tested positive for the coronavirus is the state’s first case not associated with overseas travel, prompting sweeping restrictions to public gatherings and the closure of senior activity centers across the state.
In addition to the 12 Marylanders who have tested positive for coronavirus, others were being monitored after taking similar overseas cruises and 12 people were on the Grand Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland in California.
During a press conference in Annapolis, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said school districts should use days scheduled for spring break as makeup days.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said later that MCPS is “exploring” how to make up the days schools will be closed.
He urged families to be patient, and Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight said MCPS will announce an official plan by Tuesday.
The MCPS spring break is scheduled for April 6 to 13.
“I don’t want people to cancel their plans right now,” Smith said. “… Let us think through this.”
On Wednesday, a school board committee received a briefing about MCPS’ preparations for potential school closures due to the coronavirus. School officials said they have a short-term teaching plan that will provide students with up to three weeks’ worth of activities to “expand prior learning.” No new lessons will be taught until the school district transitions to a long-term teaching plan, which is still being developed. Education materials will be distributed to students on Friday, McKnight said.
Staff members, including hourly workers, will continue to get paid, according to Wednesday’s presentation.
In a message to community members, also distributed through the county’s emergency alert system, MCPS wrote that all school-sponsored activities, including athletics and field trips are canceled until further notice.
The school district’s administrative offices will remain open, according to the message.
MCPS will announce on Friday how and where it plans to distribute meals to students during the two-week schools closure.
School officials did not immediately disclose details about spring sports schedules. The boys and girls state basketball tournaments scheduled for Thursday through Saturday were postponed, delaying games for four Montgomery County teams.
Asked about whether child care facilities operated in public schools would continue to operate, Smith said the decision is made by the county’s Interagency Coordinating Board for Community Use of Public Facilities. The agency could not immediately be reached Thursday night.
Elrich said the care of elementary school children is “our biggest concern” and called on the federal government to devise a plan that would guarantee income for workers who need time off to care for their children during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re hoping the federal government and state government recognize that it would be wrong to put adults in a situation where they have to choose between taking care of their kids and not going to work and earning the money they need to make a mortgage payment or pay their rent,” Elrich said. “… It’s not going to be solved by us at the local level. We need the federal government to step up with some form of income guarantees or protections for people, so somebody doesn’t stay home with their kids and find out they’re getting evicted next month for nonpayment of rent.”