Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) visited three schools in Caroline County as they opened for limited in-person instruction on Tuesday, marking the start of a less-than-traditional school year for thousands of Maryland students.
Hogan, along with State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon, visited North Caroline High School, Lockerman Middle School, and Denton Elementary School on Tuesday. Caroline County is one of 16 jurisdictions that plans to slowly phase in limited in-person instruction this fall.
Plans for in-person instruction vary by jurisdiction, with most counties planning a phased return to masked, socially distanced instruction for certain students. Students with special needs, and those who may not have access to the internet at home, are among those being brought back for in-person instruction, Caroline County Public Schools Superintendent Patricia Saelens said.
Hogan said eight jurisdictions declined to open for any in-person instruction for fall semester, but said he hopes those school systems reconsider and offer some in-person instruction to students who need it.
“We asked them to go back and take another look at that by the end of the first quarter to see if there weren’t some special needs kids and some folks that are really going to suffer by not having in person instruction,” Hogan said of the jurisdictions that decided not to reopen. He noted that the decision ultimately rests with local school boards.
Salmon said local boards of education will be tracking COVID-19 cases in their districts throughout the year. She said she’s hopeful that limited in-person instruction won’t pose a huge threat of infection for students, and pointed out that Worcester and Calvert counties held in-person summer school with no reported cases.
Hogan and Salmon’s visits to Caroline County schools came a week after the State Board of Education mandated school systems across the state to have an average of 3.5 hours a day of live virtual learning by the end of 2020.
The 3.5 hours of live learning was criticized by local school boards and teachers’ unions, with some saying schools weren’t given enough time to meet the new standards.
“I’m still really disappointed in the timing and manner at which this has played out,” Lori Morrow of Prince George’s County, the parent member of the state school board, said during a state board meeting last week.
Some, including Democratic Maryland Comptroller and 2022 gubernatorial candidate Peter Franchot, have warned that in-person instruction could lead to the spread of COVID-19. In a Board of Public Works meeting last Wednesday, Franchot called in-person instruction a “huge medical experiment.”
“I want to applaud the majority of county school boards that have chosen to heed the advice of experts and follow science, and not cave in under pressure from folks down the road in Washington who want to downplay the gravity of this disease,” Franchot said.