ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — Leaders in Maryland’s largest county are defending the decision to open schools virtually after Gov. Larry Hogan prodded school systems to implement in-person learning.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and the county council issued a joint statement Saturday saying the decision to begin the year with all classes online “was made to keep our children, teachers and education professionals safe.”

They also said they were “dismayed and perplexed” that Hogan, a Republican, said Thursday that all 24 jurisdictions in the state could begin in-person instruction if they choose because the state’s coronavirus numbers are dropping.

CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE:

Elrich and the county’s nine council members are all Democrats. They said Hogan’s comments were unhelpful so soon before school systems are ready to begin the fall semester.

Hogan acknowledged that he can’t force school systems open for in-person learning but urged local school boards to quickly develop plans that take advantage of the reduced coronavirus caseload and resume some level of in-person instruction.

Each of the state’s 24 jurisdictions now have positivity rates below 5 percent,

Montgomery County, just outside the nation’s capital, operates the state’s largest school system with 165,000 students.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

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