It’s important for students of all ages and teachers to get back in school. We fully support reopening schools in a responsible fashion and through an individual jurisdiction decision-making process.
However, we fear a state mandate on reopening public schools could be looming. According to Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday, State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon has the sole power to make the decision on schools. As it stands currently, local counties must submit finalized school plans to the state for review by Aug. 14. Salmon has previously indicated flexibility will be provided to local school systems based on the pandemic conditions within the specific counties. We worry there will be a change in direction with a planned press conference next week on schools.
We strongly encourage the state to allow the local officials to make the final say. Reviewing the individual plans to reopen is a wise course, but we would strongly advocate for a much earlier review date than mid-August to give families time to prepare.
For instance, in Worcester County and neighboring Wicomico, a hybrid model of in-person and virtual instructions seems almost a certainty. For public schools, this is all about the numbers. There are simply too many kids, too few teachers and not enough space to socially distance in a responsible way. Transportation is most likely the biggest hurdle to overcome based on reduced occupancy limits and air circulation concerns.
Though the issues to wade through on reopening are weighty, we believe the hazards of further keeping students – especially the elementary and intermediate learners and those with special needs – out of schools currently outweigh the health concerns of getting back in the classrooms. There are major social, mental and emotional repercussions with students staying at home and not learning on the same level as they would in school.
On Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said, “We cannot and should not rush this decision, it is absolutely critical that we get it right for our communities, and for each and every one of our students and our teachers.”
The best way to ensure the right decision is made by each school system is to allow it to be made by the local individuals in charge. These leaders understand their home counties the best.