OCEAN CITY — The biggest takeaway from Gov. Larry Hogan’s midweek press conference on the ongoing pandemic is public schools in Maryland will remain closed until at last April 24.
Hogan on Wednesday held the latest in a long string of press conferences updating Marylanders on new executive orders and other directives aimed at stemming the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the state. The governor spent much of the first part of the press conference outlining the daily positive tests counts and the steps taken thus far to combat the spread of the virus and provide assistance to people and businesses in the state.
On Monday, Hogan announced numerous directives including the closure of all non-essential businesses, a rather broad list of businesses that will remain open during the crisis to provide needed goods and services to the public, and not much changed from Monday to Wednesday on that front. Many likely anticipated a “shelter in place” directive was forthcoming on Wednesday as the next likely step in the progression, but that announcement didn’t come and it appears it likely won’t in the near future.
Instead, the biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s latest press conference is an extension of the closure of public schools in Maryland until at least April 24, or essentially another four weeks. Faced with the growing pandemic, which has seen Maryland’s confirmed case number swell to 423 as of Wednesday, public schools in Maryland have been closed since March 16, or roughly two weeks. When it came time to announce the latest plan, Hogan turned to State School Superintendent Karen Salmon.
“After lengthy discussions, I’ve made the decision to extend the closure of public schools in Maryland another four weeks until April 24,” she said. “We do not make these decisions lightly because we have a responsibility to protect the health of our students and educators.”
Of course, the health and safety of students and their families along with educators and support staff remains paramount, but Salmon acknowledged the challenges many families are facing with home-schooling and maintaining some continuity in learning.
“I know how incredibly difficult and challenging this is,” she said. “Teachers want to know when they can get back to classroom instruction, parents are concerned about the continuity and the students just want to get back to their normal lives. There is a lot of confusion, fear and anxiety right now, but nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our students, their families and educators. There is a whole lot of people working around the clock to come up with the best solutions.”
Continuity of learning was a common theme throughout the press conference and Salmon said she is working closely with local superintendents to achieve those goals.
“We’re working with all of the superintendents to provide continuity of learning,” she said. “The local superintendents are producing plans to ensure continuity of learning during this extended closure.”
For his part, Hogan said it was too soon to predict if schools would reopen on or near the prescribed April 24 closure date.
“None of us can say with any certainty in four weeks everything is going to be okay,” he said. “It’s a little aspirational. We’re not going to send kids back to school until we can ensure their safety. Over the next four weeks, we’ll reassess where we are and make the appropriate decisions at that time.”
In response to a question about the possibility of extending the school year or even summer school, Salmon said everything is on the table at this point.
“We are going to look at everything,” she said. “We may look at an extended school year. At this point, we’re just trying to maintain continuity of learning and we’ll look at all of the possibilities.
In terms of just how long the crisis will continue and when there could be some semblance of a return to normal, Hogan said it was too early to predict and hammered home the importance for Marylander to follow the directives and stay at home.
“The reality is, this crisis is just beginning,” he said. “I know people are looking for certainty, but the truth is we just don’t know how bad it will get and how long it will last. What we do know is it won’t be over in a matter of days or even weeks. It’s critically important every single individual stay at home so we can break the back of this virus.”
Again, many in the community likely anticipated a shelter-in-place order to be announced on Wednesday. Neighboring Delaware went that route this week. Instead, Hogan said Marylanders at this point are not being ordered to stay in their homes, but rather encouraged to follow the directives already in place.
“A lot of this is semantics,” he said. “There are a number of states that say they are sheltering in place, but they’re still leaving all of these businesses open and you can still go out and do all of these things. We did it the opposite way. We want you to shelter in place, but we’re closing all non-essential businesses. I believe ours is more effective.”
Hogan said any misconception Maryland is not being as stringent as some other states was unfounded.
“It came out yesterday we’re the third most aggressive state in the country,” he said. “Instead of forcing people to stay in their homes, we’re encouraging them to stay home and avoid large groups and it’s working.”
Hogan pointed to evidence collected on Tuesday by state and local law enforcement that people in Maryland are following the 10-person gathering directive and are staying home for the most part.
“We’ve had tremendous cooperation,” he said. “I want to thank the people of Maryland for cooperating with these directives. While they weren’t at first, people are taking this much more seriously. We had 500 calls from state and local police about going out and making checks and I think we only had 14 incidences statewide of groups where law enforcement had to say please disburse and they immediately cooperated. We’ve had no real incidences of people ignoring these directives.”