Today (August 3, 2020), Governor Larry Hogan issued an amended Executive Order (August 3, 2020), which prohibits county health officials from preventing the reopening of county schools. Moreover, today’s order prohibits local health officials from preventing the reopening of private and parochial schools within their borders. The original order granted local governments flexibility to enact COVID-19 related local orders more stringent than state standards, based on the high incidence of coronavirus in certain parts of the state back in April. Under the amended order, local authorities would retain the authority to close individual schools, if upon individual evaluation the school is deemed to be unsafe.
Today’s action by the Governor’s follows a dispute between the Governor and Montgomery County health officials which would have prevented in-person classroom instruction in not only Montgomery County public schools, but also the county’s private and parochial schools. The private and parochial schools in Montgomery County had argued that they should have been exempt from the Montgomery County in-person learning prohibition on the basis of their smaller pupil-to-classroom ratio, which would have given them greater leeway in meeting social distancing requirements.
In a statement issued today, Governor Hogan stated:
“The recovery plan for Maryland public schools 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.
“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.
“To be clear, Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics. As long as schools develop safe and detailed plans that follow CDC and state guidelines, they should be empowered to do what’s best for their community.
The original April 5, 2020 Executive Order by the Governor gave county health officials the authority to order closed any business or facility within its jurisdiction, when, in the judgment of health officials, continued operation posed a threat to the public health. Today’s revised order exempts public, private, and parochial schools from the local government closure authority.
The MSBA will continue to monitor developments related to this matter, including any interpretive guidance from the Governor’s Office.