Last week, Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, issued an order prohibiting all non-public schools from opening for in-person classes before October 1. Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican governor, promptly went on Twitter to express his disagreement with this decision. He tweeted:
I strongly disagree with Montgomery County’s decision to mandate the closure of private and parochial schools. As long as these school 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.
I liked the tweet. However, I didn’t expect Hogan to take any action that would override Montgomery County’s decision.
I wrong. Today, Hogan issued an emergency order stating that non-public schools can make their own decisions regarding reopening for in-person instruction in the coming academic year. He explained:
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 delegated to the county health officer.
To be clear, Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics. . . .
I want to thank all the parents, students, and school administrators who have spoken out in recent days about this important issue.
As the words “blanket closure” suggests, local health officials may shut down schools on a case-by-case basis for health reasons.
Some suspect that the county’s decision to keep private schools closed was driven by a steep decline in new public school enrollment. Montgomery County has decided to limit its public schools to online education until February of next year (at least). The county reportedly expected approximately 2,500 new students to enroll in grades K-12 for the fall, but instead has enrolled only 300 new students. Why enroll your child in a school system that will be closed, except of “online learning,” if there is an affordable private school option?
But it’s not the county’s job to ensure robust public school enrollment by shutting off alternatives. The CDC has warned of the considerable risks associated with extended school closures. Thanks to Gov. Hogan’s order, many parents have the option of enabling their kids to avoid those risks by accepting what they reasonably deem to be lesser ones.