With 80% of U.S. public schools providing in-person instruction, the Coalition of Maryland Parents and Students (COMPS), representing 20 counties, 22,000 families and 800,000 students, calls on Governor Hogan to enforce his March 1st deadline. The Coalition also calls on the Governor to issue science-based guidelines allowing counties to space students three feet apart, enabling a five-day-return.
“Those counties in Maryland that have started returning students to classrooms have reported great success, with seamless and safe reintegration, teachers beaming with pride and elated children who report a huge improvement in learning. However, far too many counties are phasing-in at a snail’s pace, dramatically inhibiting the number of days students will have in the classroom before summer break. In addition, barring guidance from the state, many school districts remain wedded to a hybrid format of learning, reducing those minimal in-person opportunities 50% further,” wrote the coalition in its letter.
“You were instrumental in moving our school boards to reopen, and we need your help again to (1) accelerate unnecessarily drawn-out phasing-in plans and (2) provide immediate health and safety guidance to our school superintendents to get our children back into school 5 days a week this spring. We believe more aggressive tactics are needed to push recalcitrant districts who are not sensing the urgency we, as parents, are witnessing firsthand,” urged COMPS.
Some districts have followed Hogan’s demand to reopen schools by March 1, however, many have completely flouted this deadline. While most other school systems in the region and around the country return students in one-to-three weeks, Howard County is taking four weeks, Baltimore County is taking five weeks, and Montgomery County and Baltimore City are taking six weeks. Additionally, Prince Georges and Charles Counties do not plan to reopen until mid-April.
“Last week, Montgomery County proposed a tentative acceleration to their plan, after immense pressure from parents. However, this so-called ‘acceleration’ is only bringing back the final two grades a mere one week earlier. This abysmal ‘re-opening’ effort mocks your March 1 call and is resulting in 41% of Maryland’s students returning to school in April and May, with many missing over 400 days of live instruction. Absent your immediate intervention, some of our students are currently set to have only 15 in-person school days through the remainder of the school year,” noted the coalition.
Other districts, similarly sized or larger than Maryland’s largest county, returned all students in less than three weeks. Fairfax County, VA, with 187,000 students, is phasing in over two weeks. Jefferson County, KY, with 101,000 students is taking three weeks. Dekalb County Schools in Georgia, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, and Shelby County schools in Tennessee, all with more than 100,000 students, took a week.
Superintendents in several of these districts including Montgomery, Allegany, Cecil, Frederick, and Worcester have publicly expressed a willingness to use a three-foot rule with explicit, written guidance from the state. The Coalition urged Hogan to issue new health and safety guidance so that all willing Maryland students can return five days a week.
Governors and state leaders in Iowa, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Mexico, Virginia and West Virginia have recently updated distancing guidance to enable the full return of students to classrooms this spring. In fact, 49% of U.S. public schools are open five days a week for live instruction enabled by reducing six-foot distancing. According to data collected by OpenFCPS, as of late January, of the 75 largest school districts in the country, 86% did not follow a strict six-foot distancing requirement. France, Britain, and other European nations are using a three-foot rule. And Maryland’s Cecil, Carroll, Harford, Somerset and Worcester Counties have already made distancing changes to accommodate all students four or five days a week.
These changes are a result of updated research around the six-foot-rule. A meta-analysis of 172 studies has found that three feet is sufficient to reduce risk of viral exposure. A study from Massachusetts shows no difference in infection rates between schools using a six-foot rule to those using a three-foot rule. Many public health experts, including the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics, support the three-foot rule for live instruction when the alternative is virtual.
“We need state leadership to be more vocal about the urgency of the situation and for you to follow through with repercussions that you implied would befall uncooperative districts,” urged the coalition. “Over this past year, Maryland’s children have been made to needlessly suffer with remote learning while millions of other children throughout America have been able to return to school (or never left). Once a leader of education in the country, Maryland now has an incredible task of fixing this educational disaster that has been thrust upon our children. Full return is the only way to halt learning loss, improve student mental health, and bring back a sense of normalcy that our children richly deserve,” concluded the coalition.