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Commentary COVID-19 in Maryland Education

Opinion: Hogan Refuses to Lead on Indoor Masking Requirement photo.

By John B. King Jr.

The writer is former U.S. secretary of Education under President Obama, a Montgomery County public school parent and Democratic candidate for Maryland governor.

As the delta variant rages and threatens to disrupt another school year, it’s past time for Gov. Larry Hogan to step up, heed the science and acknowledge that the COVID-19 emergency is not over.

He must reject short-sighted partisanship by following the example of the more than dozen states – including Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia – which have already established statewide mandates for indoor masking in schools, and governors like California’s Gavin Newson, who is requiring vaccinations for educators and education support professionals.

Over the last several years, Gov. Hogan has earned praise in Maryland and across the country for having the courage as a Republican leader to call out some of Donald Trump’s most egregious displays of hostility toward democracy, science and America’s racial diversity.

However, now that he is eyeing the 2024 presidential race, Larry Hogan is disregarding his duty to ensure the safety of students, educators and families with just days before the start of the new school year.

Former U.S. Education Secretary John King, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, talks with Maryland’s new State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury at the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Parents and families rightly want a safe, sensible and efficient plan as we return to school. Given what we have learned over the past year and a half that means (1) requiring all students and educators to wear masks indoors; (2) requiring all educators and education support professionals to be vaccinated (or tested frequently); (3) investing in regular COVID-19 testing in schools to identify any outbreaks before they spread; and (4) adding COVID-19 vaccination, as full FDA approval comes into place for those 12 and older, to the required vaccination list (alongside the other diseases we have effectively combated with vaccines like measles, mumps and polio) for eligible students.

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence in support of the effectiveness of indoor masking in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and vaccines in preventing hospitalization and death, Gov. Hogan refuses to lead and has unfairly punted the decisions on mandates to local school districts. Now the state Board of Education, whose members are predominantly appointees of Gov. Hogan, is voting on whether to impose a statewide mask mandate.

I know how critical schools can be in the lives of our students because public schools saved my life when I lost both of my parents to illness by the time I was 12.  School was the one place where I could be a kid when I couldn’t be a kid at home.

Our young people deserve to be back in classrooms filled with the joy of learning, supportive relationships with teachers and peers, and the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills they need for success in college, careers and life.

Students whose families are struggling economically often depend on school for meals provided through the free- and reduced-price lunch program and school breakfast programs. For many students, school is where they get critical access to mental health services. School is a vital point of service delivery for students with disabilities whose needs simply cannot be addressed with online learning.

And of course, we all look forward to when each of our children can return to pursuing their passions at school, whether that is on the stage, in the lab, on the playing field, in the art studio or in the library. All those benefits of the return to school will only be possible if we safely reopen and stay open safely – and that requires the governor’s leadership.

We know what happens when governors choose politics over students. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has recklessly chosen to try to bully educators out of putting mask mandates in place – an approach that has already resulted in thousands of students quarantining at home.

Do we really want to risk a return to seeing businesses slowed to a halt when employees can’t come to work because they are home with young children sent home from school? Do we really want to watch as outbreaks that begin at school put grandparents, parents or even children in ICU beds? The stakes are much too high.

Our history books are full of politicians who have come to regret allowing their ambition for higher office to cloud their judgment and lead them to choose personal advantage over the public good.

The Gov. Hogan who so frequently appears on the Sunday news shows arguing for pragmatism over partisanship should be better than that.


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Opinion: Hogan Refuses to Lead on Indoor Masking Requirement