ANNAPOLIS — Maryland schools will be closed for an additional three weeks because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as state officials continue to evaluate plans for resuming instruction, possibly through the summer.
State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon announced the intermediate step during a Friday news conference outside the State House with Gov. Larry Hogan.
“The governor through this time has taken great care in making strategic decisions and doing things incrementally,” said Salmon. “I’ve learned a lot from him, and I feel this is one of those decisions that we need to make incrementally to see where we are in another month. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and I certainly don’t want to dash the hopes of many children and parents that there might be some other ways to do public school going forward.”
Maryland public schools have been closed since March 12, a week after Hogan announced the first three cases of COVID-19 in the state and declared a state of emergency.
Salmon’s announcement Friday that schools will stay closed until at least May 15 marks the second extension of that closure. Schools had been planning to reopen on April 27.
Washington, D.C., announced Friday that it will close schools for the year on May 29 rather than June 19.
Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said Salmon’s decision was correct under the circumstances.
“We know that this type of learning is no substitute for in-person learning, and we will need to be thoughtful and serious about how we help students recover from this crisis,” said Bost. “Recent weeks have magnified existing inequities — whether of technology access, food security, or otherwise — that our students face every day and that challenge their ability to succeed in school. We must come together to address these issues over the short- and long-term. Everyone’s safety is paramount, but we remain hopeful that educators and students will be able to spend time together again at their schools before this school year is over.”
Salmon is considering the possibility of summer classes. It is not yet clear if such classes would be required for all students or just some.
“We’re certainly looking more towards summer and summer learning programs,” she said. “We’re getting better at digital, online learning.
“Certainly instruction is different. I don’t think we can say students haven’t had any during this time, because students are involved in their digital learning platforms and are getting calls from their teachers or doing lessons on Facetime even if their students have disabilities,” said Salmon.
While it is unclear when Maryland schools will reopen, Salmon said there is likely to be an effect on graduations. Local school leaders from around the state are already trying to plan alternative celebrations.
“I don’t think that we’re going to be seeing the types of ceremonies at this point that we had in the past,” said Salmon.
Maryland’s public schools are scheduled to close for the academic year as early as June 15. It is not clear if the pandemic will ultimately require the system to abandon hopes of finishing in a classroom, but the math is starting to work against the possibility.
President Donald Trump and his advisers announced recommended guidelines for states to follow in reopening business and social gatherings. To enter the first phase, it’s suggested that a state must show 14 days of declining numbers.
In each phase, states should see 14 additional days of declining numbers to move to the next.
Schools are not recommended to reopen until phase two.
“Our numbers are still going up,” Hogan said Friday. The governor’s office announced later in the day that Hogan would be unveiling his own “road map” next week for easing restrictions.
The governor said the state has not yet reached its peak of coronavirus infections and may not for at least a week.
During the news conference, Hogan also announced that the state is working to make it easier for Maryland residents to use federal food subsidies online.
Additionally, he said, the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations is set to roll out a new website that will allow self-employed and other workers not traditionally covered by unemployment insurance benefits to begin applying for payments. Those payments are part of an expanded program approved by the federal government.