With Maryland at a COVID-19 positivity rate of below 5% and zero pandemic-related deaths recorded in the past 24 hours for the first time since March, the state superintendent of schools announced Thursday that all childcare providers can return to their full capacities, as long as they adhere to federal and state guidance on health and safety protocols.
“Hopefully this action will assist in limiting the many unregulated in illegal childcare operators that have sprung up in recent months as pandemic pods, where there are no criminal background checks, no oversight, and parents cannot be sure that their children are in a safe environment,” State Superintendent Dr. Karen B. Salmon said during a State House press conference Thursday afternoon.
Since June, childcare centers in Maryland have been limited to no more than 15 individuals per classroom and there have been no spikes in COVID-19 cases, Salmon said. Childcare providers can now have 20 3- and 4-year-old children, with a ratio of one teacher for every 10 students, as well as 30 school-aged students with a ratio of one teacher for every 15 students.
Reopening family care providers will receive a one-time grant of $800 from the state, while center-based childcare providers will receive $1,600, Salmon said. The state Department of Education will also offer $1,000 in startup grants for new family home care providers in an effort to support small businesses.
More than 82% of childcare providers, who Salmon called “heroes,” have reopened so far, but the demand remains very high as many students are still distance learning from home.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and Salmon again encouraged all local school systems to return students to in-person learning as soon as possible.
“There continues to be broad consensus that getting children safely back into the classrooms must remain a top priority. For many, there’s simply no substitute for in-person instruction,” Hogan said.
Despite teacher unions’ opposition to returning to in-person learning because of safety concerns, Hogan said that he has heard from many teachers who are “dying to get back in the classroom.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend COVID-19 screening for students and staff in K-12 buildings, said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s acting deputy secretary for public health services. Rather, schools could offer weekly or monthly point of care tests as part of their staff testing strategy, she said.
All 24 local school systems have submitted a reopening plan that lays out how they will bring at least small groups of students back to in-person learning, but ultimately it is up to the counties to make that decision, Hogan said.
“We can’t and won’t usurp their authority but based on health metrics, based on both health department and state department of education, there is really no excuse for not trying to bring kids back,” he said.
Hogan, who has feuded with teachers’ unions throughout his tenure, took another swipe at them during Thursday’s news conference.
“The union obviously has taken a pretty strong position,” he said. “In many cases, they don’t want to go back, really ever until this whole thing is gone and until there is a vaccine. That’s a pretty strident position, but I can tell you most people in the state do not agree with that position.”