Montgomery County, MD, Orders Private and Religious Schools to Remain Closed

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

The health officer of Montgomery County, Maryland, ordered nonpublic schools, including “private pay schools” and “schools affiliated with religious institutions,” to remain closed for in-school instruction through October 1.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have based our decisions on science and data,” said Dr. Travis Gayles in a press statement Friday, and he added:

At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers. We have seen increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups, and this step is necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents.

The order is effective Monday, August 3.

The Montgomery County public school district recently announced it would not open for in-school instruction for the fall semester but will offer virtual instruction.

According to the statement, Gayles will reassess his order prior to October 1 to determine whether it should be extended.

According to the Montgomery County health office, any person who knowingly violates the order is considered “guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction, is subject to imprisonment not to exceed one year, a fine not exceeding $5,000, or both.”

The order drew a strong note of disapproval from Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who said in a statement posted to Twitter Saturday:

I strongly disagree with Montgomery County’s decision to mandate the closure of private and parochial schools. As long as these schools develop safe plans that follow CDC and state guidelines, they should be empowered to do what’s best for their community. This is a decision for schools and parents, not politicians.

Katie Calidas, a parent of two children who attend St. Elizabeth’s, a Montgomery County Catholic school, told the Washington Examiner her family was “incredibly caught off guard last night with the announcement, especially after Hogan condoned opening, and CDC gave the OK.”

“Our school has been working so hard to make improvements to meet the safety measure, only to be shot down by the county,” she added. “It doesn’t seem they were given a fair shot. And the county misled them in the first place, pretending they would be allowed to open if safety requirements were met.”

The Archdiocese of Washington, DC, announced in The Catholic Standard, its news publication, that its leadership “is currently reviewing the directive, as well as Gov. Hogan’s statements, and will evaluate to decide how best to proceed for students and the entire community.”

According to the Standard, Archbishop Wilton Gregory and the archdiocesan Catholic schools office have been working jointly with school pastors and principals to finalize plans for the reopening of the schools.

The report states:

These models include virtual at-home academic instruction, in-person academic instruction and a blended model that includes both virtual and in-person instruction for our students. Great care has been taken by our school leaders to create reopening plans that follow all current state and national guidelines for reopening schools.

“The Archdiocese of Washington continues to have the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and parents uppermost in mind and heart as we make our decisions regarding the reopening of our Catholic schools,” said Gregory. “We will continue to strive to be both good citizens as well as to be faithful to our religious principles, pastoral mission and our obligations to our families.”

The archdiocese oversees 93 Catholic schools located in Washington, DC, and Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s Counties in Maryland.

The Montgomery County health office reports the number of coronavirus cases in Maryland, and the region that includes the county, have been increasing recently.

“As of July 31, Maryland has more than 88,000 cases of COVID-19 and 8,377 young people (19 years of age and younger) have tested positive for the virus,” the health office said. “And these case numbers continue to increase.”

On Sunday, Hogan tweeted his state “is now reporting a 4.60% positivity rate.”

“Total current hospitalizations have declined to 553, with 129 ICU beds in use,” he stated. “It remains critical for Marylanders to take the steps we know will slow the spread: avoid crowds, wash your hands, and wear a mask.”

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