Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday issued an emergency order clarifying that private schools are exempt from a county order mandating the closure of schools until October.
Montgomery County officials had issued an order prohibiting both private and public schools from holding in-person classes until at least Oct. 1 in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.
However, in the emergency order, Hogan exempted private academic institutions, saying they could dictate their own decisions on whether to hold in-person learning.
In an accompanying statement, the governor explained that his recovery plan for schools in the state “stresses local flexibility within the parameters set by state officials.”
“Over the last several weeks, school boards and superintendents made their own decisions about how and when to reopen public schools, after consultation with state and local health officials,” stated Hogan.
“Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines. The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer.”
The First Liberty Institute and the American Association of Christian Schools expressed their support for Hogan's order in a joint statement emailed to supporters.
“We appreciate Governor Hogan’s efforts to balance the needs for public health while respecting the freedom, and religious autonomy, of private, religious institutions,” they stated.
“Not only are we committed to following appropriate health and safety guidance from the CDC and other public health agencies, we agree with Governor Hogan that blanket dictates from central planning rarely provide the freedom and flexibility to develop appropriate plans that meet the needs of Maryland’s private, Christian schools.”
Last week, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles directed private schools to be closed until October, saying in a statement “we have based our decisions on science and data.”
“At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers,” Gayles said Friday.
“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.”
As of Tuesday, Maryland has 91,705 COVID-19 infections among a population of more than 6 million. Montgomery County has 17,881 cases and 793 deaths listed as COVID-19 related, among a population of over 1 million.