Throughout the coronavirus summer, parents and children have anxiously awaited a return to some sort of normalcy, hoping the traditional beginning of a new school year might happen. For most, it didn’t. It is clear the school reopening debate is more about politics and sadly; students will continue to suffer.
Those who are advocating for keeping students out of schools, stress that we must follow the science so that children and teachers remain safe. However, when the science is followed and health metrics are observed, it becomes clear they are ignoring the cold hard facts. They are playing politics.
The state of Maryland is a prime example of politics at play in the school reopening debate. This fall, every county in Maryland will have its public schools begin the year virtually. There are 23 counties in Maryland and the public schools serve almost 900,000 Maryland students.
During a recent press conference, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and state health officials said school districts are allowed to reopen if there are fewer than five cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents in their jurisdiction and if the test positivity rate is below 5%. Governor Hogan said all 23 Maryland counties have met the new state benchmarks and should begin reopening school facilities.
“As a result of our improved health metrics, every single county school system in the State of Maryland is now fully authorized to begin safely reopening,” the governor said. “Nearly everyone agrees that there is no substitute for in-person instruction.”
This positive health news coming out of Maryland should be celebrated. It isn’t. Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), wasted no time accusing Governor Hogan of “throwing school communities under the bus.” Bost urged people to consult health and safety officials before making school reopening decisions. Isn’t that exactly what Governor Hogan did?
This is the same educator who accused President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of “a lot of rhetoric” when the Administration highlighted medical recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which called for the safe reopening of schools and stressed the importance of in-person classes. Medical professionals know schools reduce a child’s risk of abuse, drug addiction and suicide. These concerns are not rhetorical, they are deadly serious.
There are tens of thousands of students in Maryland who attend private and parochial schools. Many of these students are returning to their campuses or have already done so. These schools are offering in-person classes; some are offering in-person classes a few days a week and virtual learning as well.
These schools have the same health metrics as their public school counterparts, but have found a way to be flexible and creative while prioritizing the safety of their school community. Governor Hogan made certain these private and parochial schools could make their own decisions about school reopening as long as health metrics are observed. The science was and is being respected.
Hogan’s administration just announced grant funding is available to help school systems move toward in-person instruction. It is disappointing that school systems need that extra incentive in order for them to welcome students back, but at least there is nothing rhetorical about cold, hard cash. Maybe now, the Maryland State Education Association will start doing its homework.