COVID-19 and Schools
On March 12, Maryland and Ohio became the first states in the nation to close public schools statewide in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It was one of the early and aggressive actions taken to keep Marylanders safe, to stop the spread of the virus, and to save lives.
Since that time, State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon of the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has met frequently with local school superintendents, working collaboratively to address the needs of students, families, staff, faculty, and school communities. MSDE also worked diligently to provide meals for students in need, secure emergency access to child care for essential workers, and direct federal funding to support K-12 technology upgrades, targeted tutoring programs, and rural and urban broadband expansion.
In May, MSDE unveiled its Maryland Together: Recovery Plan for Education, which presents a number of strategies and considerations for school systems as the state faces these unprecedented challenges.
The Path Forward
As a result of dramatically improved COVID-19 health metrics across the state, Governor Hogan and Dr. Salmon announced on August 28 that every county school system in Maryland is now fully authorized to begin safely reopening.
The authority and decision making on safe openings continues to rest with county boards of education. Decisions should be based on a set of statewide metrics, guidelines, and benchmarks issued by the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) in collaboration with MSDE.
Key Metrics to Guide Reopening
Based on the state’s improving health metrics, local school systems are urged to reevaluate their modes of instruction by the end of the first quarter. MDH and MSDE have presented county-specific benchmarks to guide conversations among local officials regarding in-person instruction. They are based on metrics that, taken together, reflect the levels of community transmission, including test positivity and case rates. Schools retain flexibility to make decisions that best meet the educational needs of their students while taking into account the level of community spread and their capacity to implement the guidelines.
While adherence to these metrics for re-entry into classrooms are not considered requirements, local school systems are strongly encouraged to utilize Maryland’s improving numbers and the provided metrics as the driving force for the decision to return to school buildings. Health and safety precautions must remain in place as more students return to school buildings, and school systems should continue to work in conjunction with local health officials to monitor trends in the metrics and any outbreaks at area schools.