Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan deserves credit for stepping in and supporting the right of schools to determine for themselves whether to open for on-site instruction.

Private schools have every incentive to open as long as this can be done safely. Needless to say, they have no incentive to open unsafely—a school ‘s reputation would be seriously harmed if it spread COVID-19.

This wasn’t enough for Montgomery County officials. County Health officer Dr. Travis Gayles on Friday issued an order that private schools are banned from in-person classes through Oct. 1 — same as the public schools. Interestingly, this would reduce competition to the unionized public schools.

Gayles claimed on-site instruction unsafe in private or public schools, though certainly the private schools that intended to open would be capable of determining that for themselves. Bravo to Governor Hogan, who issued a revised order that lets private schools make their own decisions. (A school can still be shut down if it is found that it is a threat to public health.)

Hogan tweeted:

‘Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines,” Hogan said in a statement. “The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer.’

The governor’s action raises an interesting question: Why do so many public schools want to shut down, while private schools often make a different decision? The Wall Street Journal this morning has an excellent editorial that provides some answers to that conundrum.

Headlined “School Opening Extortion,” the editorial lays it out. COVID-19 is being used as a political weapon, according to the editorial. Here are some key points:

For most Americans the coronavirus is a scourge. But teachers unions seem to think it’s also an opportunity—to squeeze more money from taxpayers and put their private and public charter school competition out of business. That’s the only way to read the extraordinary effort by national and local union leaders to keep their members from returning to the classroom.

. . .

The phrase for this is political extortion. Rather than work to open schools safely, the unions are issuing ultimatums and threatening strikes until they are granted their ideological wish list. Children, who would have to endure more lost instruction, are their hostages.

Unlike public schools, private schools don’t have a captive audience:

Public schools are funded whether they open or not. But private and religious schools, which rely on tuition and donations, don’t have that luxury. The Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom reckons that 107 private and religious schools have been shut down permanently at least partly due to Covid-19. New York’s Catholic archdiocese has announced the closure of 20 schools.

The teachers unions have a cynical interest in forcing their competitors to shut down. What a humiliation it would be if charter and private schools reopen and demonstrate that in-person education can be done with the right risk mitigation. Or if parents unsatisfied with the public schools’ response to the coronavirus decide a private school would be better for their child.

Unlike people who must show up to receive a paycheck, public school teachers across the country are mounting colorful protests against the imposition of having to return to work. In a New York protest, teachers sported signs with messages such as “I can’t teach from my coffin.” An especially creative pedagogue brought along a guillotine!

But here’s the thing: teachers who have real impediments to teaching, perhaps age or health problems, will no doubt be released from classroom duties. It is not necessary to shut down education in the U.S. to accommodate them.

Nobody—and that includes the Wicked Orange Man—wants to send teachers into harm’s way. Sending vulnerable teachers back to their classrooms, in addition to being cruel, would just about scotch his re-election hopes. It is impossible not to view the actions of the unionized teaching profession with a heaping dose of skepticism.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, children are being held hostage.