- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2021

Maryland teachers are pushing back after Gov. Larry Hogan called for schools to reopen by March 1, while a group representing parents and students are applauding his call to action.

The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), which represents 75,000 education staffers, criticized the governor’s claim that there is “no public health reason” for students not to be in classrooms.

“Right now, many educators are trying to get vaccines and are being told that they are not yet available in their counties. Safety measures that public health experts have recommended are yet to be properly implemented in too many schools,” the teachers union said in a Facebook post Thursday.

The union’s statements came hours after a press conference during which Mr. Hogan called upon schools to implement a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning within the next two months. The governor cited a “terrible learning loss” caused by online-only instruction.

The Montgomery County Education Association, which includes more than 12,000 educators, echoed the MSEA’s criticism on Facebook Friday and said despite concerns “about learning loss in the interim, we are more concerned about the loss of life.” 

“We cannot in good conscience send folks back into school buildings without ensuring that all of the necessary safety protocols are in place, including adequate HVAC in buildings, PPE and social distancing requirements,” said Chris Lloyd, president of the union.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said during a public health forum last month that states “should try to keep the schools open and get children who are not in school back in school as best as we possibly can.”

Dr. Fauci referred to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show transmission of the virus in schools is low.

The CDC website states that “opening schools for in-person learning as safely and quickly as possible, and keeping them open, is important given the many known and established benefits of in-person learning.”

Although Mr. Hogan cannot order county school boards to reopen classrooms, he brought up other ways to encourage officials to oblige.

Chicago has cut pay for instructors who refuse to teach in-person and South Carolina has threatened to revoke licenses of instructors who do the same, he said. Additionally, Ohio is reportedly offering vaccines only to teachers who commit to going back to the classroom.

“We do not want to have to take such actions here in Maryland,” Mr. Hogan said. “But if school systems do not immediately begin a good-faith effort to return to the classrooms, we will explore every legal avenue at our disposal.”

MSEA said educators want to reopen schools and the focus should not be to “point fingers and threaten educators.” 

“Instead of moving goalposts and trying to scare educators, let’s focus on what we need to do to open schools safely and sustainably,” the union said.

Meanwhile, the Coalition of Maryland Parents and Students, which includes 13 organizations that represent more than 15,000 parents statewide, applauded Mr. Hogan’s call-to-action Thursday.

“We have watched as our kids have suffered severe academic loss, declining grades, social isolation and an increase in mental illness,” the group’s statement says. “We call on our boards of Education to heed the bipartisan calls from both state and federal leaders today, and in days, not weeks, take action to make this a reality. The time is now, the stakes couldn’t be higher for our kids.”

Schools statewide have taken different approaches to teaching throughout the pandemic, with some conducting fully virtual instruction and others taking a hybrid approach.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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