2020 | Schools

Elrich, council say they’re ‘dismayed,’ ‘perplexed’ by Hogan’s push to reopen schools

County officials support virtual learning for MCPS

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Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and the County Council released a joint statement on Saturday morning, saying they are “dismayed” and “perplexed” that Gov. Larry Hogan announced that school districts would be allowed to reopen “days before students return to school” on Monday.

At a Thursday press conference, Hogan said new data shows it’s safe for every school district in the state to begin reopening. He criticized districts that have committed to virtual learning through the fall.

This week, the Montgomery County school board finalized its plan for students to learn from home until at least the end of January.

In their joint statement, Elrich and the council said the county had considered a hybrid in-person and virtual learning approach, but decided to teach virtually based on a review of conditions and consultation with public health experts.

“We support Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) decision, which was based on data and science and was made to keep our children, teachers and education professionals safe. … We understand the importance of getting our kids back in the classroom, but how we do that has far reaching implications for the entire community,” they wrote.

MCPS has a “blended” virtual learning model that will be implemented when the “time is right” — switching plans for a school system with 165,000 students and 24,000 staff “cannot happen overnight,” according to the statement.

“Until that time, we request that the Governor support our local school system and its deliberative approach to educating children in the face of this pandemic,” they wrote.

Hogan said Thursday that virtual learning plans are “simply not acceptable” and that it “is absolutely critical that we begin the process of getting our children safely and gradually back into the classrooms.”

Districts that have fewer than five COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the jurisdiction, as well as a test positive rate below 5%, should reopen, Hogan said. These requirements must be met for at least seven days. All school districts in the state meet those criteria, he said.

MCPS released a statement Thursday night, expressing disappointment over Hogan’s “last-minute announcement.”

School officials wrote that they will need time to “thoughtfully assess these important developments.”

The school system plans to have full days of live instruction, aside from Wednesdays during the fall. On Wednesdays, half of the day will be reserved for independent, off-screen learning. There will be 21.5 hours of live instruction per week for elementary school students and 18 hours for middle and high school students.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said Thursday that Hogan does not have the authority to order schools to be reopened.

State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon, who appeared with Hogan at the press conference on Thursday, said she has proposed for students to receive at least 3.5 hours of live classes each day.
The Maryland State Board of Education will discuss the proposal next week.

Staff reporter Caitlynn Peetz contributed to this story.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.