ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Face coverings will be required for all students and staff if and when Maryland schools reopen, state officials said Wednesday.
Gov. Larry Hogan was joined by State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon in a press conference, speaking on how while they know people are anxious for a decision on reopening schools, but rather than rushing, they said they want to get it right.
The number of cases has increased by more than 700 per day for several days. On Wednesday, the state’s total cases surpassed 80,000 and 600 new cases were reported. Hospitalizations were also up.
“I know people are anxious to get these final decisions, but it’s absolutely critical that rather than rushing, we get this right,” Hogan said. “For our communities, for our teachers and especially for each and every one of our children in Maryland.”
Salmon said they’ve been working toward the goal of safely reopening since they had to close in the last school year, saying what happens in school buildings is essential for children’s development.
The imminent safety and health of students and staff must be the first priority, she said. Local systems have until August 14 to develop and submit recovery plans.
She said schools can choose to reopen for in-person in the fall, depending on the conditions in their locality.
Salmon listed three “guardrails” for schools this fall:
- Systems must follow CDC guidelines including wearing masks and hand-washing.
- They must adhere to state protocols for addressing an outbreak
- They must identify learning gaps, keep up with curricular frameworks and ensure safe transportation to and from school.
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As nine school systems have made the decision to go virtual for part of or for the full semester, Salmon said they will work to bridge the digital divide, dedicating $100 million to equipping students with devices and Internet connectivity.
Another $100 million will be invested in tutoring and learning programs to address learning loss due to the time away from direct instruction and teacher intervention.
Some Marylanders do not have broadband access, and to combat that, they are allocating $10 million to the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband, which will construct a wireless education network in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.
The state is also committing $255 million from the CARES fund to be used for education priorities.
In a statement, the Maryland State Education Association said more schools need to move online for at least the first semester:
“Many local systems in Maryland have already opted to begin the year with virtual learning, and we urge more systems to do the same for at least the first semester. Virtual learning is not a perfect solution, but it’s the safest and focusing on just one mode of education enables educators to direct their total attention to making it more rigorous and equitable. We must do all we can to get the virus under control so that we can safely return to in-person learning—which we know is most beneficial to our students over the long-term. We also know that the success of this school year and our ability to reopen schools as soon as possible will depend on a commitment to funding from federal, state, and local levels that we have not seen to date. Educators are committed to doing all that we can to make virtual learning as successful as possible, and eagerly await the day when public health conditions allow us to return to our schools and classrooms with our students for the in-person learning that we know is better for children.”