A group that says it represents parents from 20 Maryland counties is calling on Gov. Larry Hogan to push school districts to reopen more quickly and allow more students in each classroom.
The letter to Hogan was sent shortly before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that is relaxing COVID-19 social distancing guidelines for schools.
The CDC said students can be 3 feet apart inside classrooms as long as they are wearing masks, but should stay the standard 6 feet apart in other spaces throughout the building. While every school district sets its own policies for operating during the pandemic, the change will give schools more leeway to increase the number of students in the building every day.
“We need state leadership to be more vocal about the urgency of the situation and for you to follow through with repercussions that you implied would befall uncooperative districts,” the Coalition of Maryland Parents and Students said in the letter. “Over this past year, Maryland’s children have been made to needlessly suffer with remote learning while millions of other children throughout America have been able to return to school.”
In February, Hogan urged school districts to return students to school buildings and threatened to take action if students weren’t returning by March 1. Maryland has been one of the slowest states to reopen classrooms. As of March 17, only one state — California — had a smaller percentage of students back in person than Maryland, according to Burbio, a company that has been tracking the return to classrooms since the beginning of the pandemic.
Hogan has used his influence to direct the reopening, but he does not have any legal authority to order schools to have students return for in-person classes. Maryland’s state school superintendent can force schools to close in an emergency, but local school boards have control over the openings in their districts.
The coalition accuses counties, particularly Baltimore, Montgomery and Howard counties, of taking months rather than weeks to fully open all of their schools to any student who wants to return. Families have the option of continuing to learn online. Most school systems in the Baltimore area are staggering their openings, with several grades returning every few weeks beginning with elementary students.
Officials for school districts across the region said Friday that they were reviewing the new CDC guidance but had not made any immediate changes to their reopening plans. Harford County had previously said it would keep students and staff 6 feet apart “whenever and wherever possible.”
On the Eastern Shore, the superintendent of Queen Anne’s County schools said it will allow students to attend in-person class more than two days a week based on the new guidance.