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Maryland school superintendents dispute governor’s reopening criticism

Maryland’s school boards and superintendents pushed back against Gov. Larry Hogan’s assertions that the schools have been too slow to try to get students back into schools.

In a statement released Friday, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the statewide superintendents association said they found his remarks “surprising” because he implied that school systems have been unwilling to return students to school.

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Hogan, a Republican, said Thursday that while he does not have the authority to order schools to reopen school buildings, he strongly suggests they consider plans to do so before the end of the semester. He singled out eight school districts whose plans said they will be teaching online-only until the end of January.

Hogan also implied that teacher unions were holding up the reopening and that school systems took a path of least resistance.

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“Perhaps it was easier for a local school board to simply say they did not want to open, to say they have developed no plans to safely reopen or to bring any children back in for any instruction for the rest of the calendar year. That is not acceptable,” Hogan said.

The school leaders said that was an “inaccurate characterization, and certainly not in the spirit of partnership.”

The president of the association representing Maryland’s superintendents, Talbot County Superintendent Kelly Griffith, said the governor’s health metrics and guidelines for reopening schools come far too late in the process of planning for the coming school year, which begins Sept. 8. Every school system was required to submit its plans for instruction for the coming months by Aug. 14, and school districts had already made a decision to go online.

“This is a step in the right direction. It is a shame that is happening the week before school starts, said Griffith.

Beginning in June, Griffith said, the 24 school superintendents have been asking state school superintendent Karen Salmon for guidelines for reopening. The groups asked for clear metrics based on scientific research that would be used consistently across the state as well as guidelines for protective equipment and contract tracing.

The two groups were told to follow CDC guidelines, she said, but it was clear those guidelines would continue to rapidly change.

Without more specific guidance from the state department of education, Griffith said, the superintendents wrote a letter asking the state health department to develop metrics.

“To state that the local recovery plans are insufficient without having these metrics from the beginning stages of planning ... is confounding,” the superintendents’ statement said.

Griffith said the superintendents had no advance warning of the announcement, and they still need more information about the state’s offer of $10 million in grants for those school systems that move to reopen. “We don’t know what that is about,” Griffith said.

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