State Superintendent to Stay Put as Decision on Keeping Schools Closed Is Pending

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon, with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) behind her. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

The Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday afternoon to extend the contract of outgoing State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon, who has been leading the state public schools’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Two weeks ago, state officials announced that public schools in Maryland would be closed at least through March 27. While the board received an update from Salmon on efforts to provide free meals and maintain continuity in children’s lesson plans as they study from home, it was not announced Tuesday whether schools will remain closed longer.

The state of Virginia announced on Monday that public schools there would remain closed for the rest of the school year. At a news conference on Monday, Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said an announcement on further school closures would be made soon, but additional details weren’t available Tuesday afternoon. He has a news conference scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday and is expected to have more to say on the school year then.

The vote to extend Salmon’s contract until a replacement is named came several hours into an extended meeting of the board, which was conducted via teleconference. Several times during the open portion of the meeting, the board halted discussion as an online livestream was overwhelmed with viewers.

“Dr. Salmon has led us through this emergency with grace and is including all of the local superintendents in decision-making,” Jean C. Halle, the board’s vice president said during the meeting. “And I think her experience and knowledge and compassion will serve us well during this emergency and I’m very grateful that she’s willing to extend her time in this leadership position.”

Halle was one of the only board members able to offer extended comments during the vote, which was interrupted by technical issues. Salmon announced in December that she would not seek another term when her contract expires June 30.

During Tuesday’s meeting, board members were told that the search for a new superintendent continues and that the board would receive an update “in the very near future.”

Also on Tuesday, the board voted to seek a waiver from the federal government to exempt schools from conducting state standardized tests required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act this spring. The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that waivers from the testing, as well as accountability reports, were available to states. As of Monday, 24 states had asked for and received a waiver, Assistant State Superintendent Mary Gable said.

Standardized test scores are one component of the annual Maryland Report Card, which tracks student achievement in public schools and identifies schools targeted for improvement. Maryland is also seeking a waiver from accountability reporting.

More than 435,000 free meals were served to students throughout Maryland last week at public school sites throughout the state, Salmon reported Tuesday. There are more than 500 sites offering free meals, and a comprehensive list is online at mdsummermeals.org.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.