Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and officials in the state are at odds over a county's decision to mandate private schools to begin virtual-only learning this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Health officials in Montgomery County last week made the decision to keep private and parochial schools closed through October for in-person learning, arguing that having students in the classroom would present a danger to pupils and teachers as the state grapples with COVID-19.
But Hogan blasted the move over the weekend, saying: "I strongly disagree with Montgomery County's decision to mandate the closure of private and parochial schools."
"As long as these schools develop safe plans that follow CDC and state guidelines, they should be empowered to do what's best for their community," Hogan said in a statement. "This is a decision for schools and parents, not politicians."
Montgomery County Public Schools, as well as most other public school districts across the state, have announced their decision to offer virtual-only instruction this fall.
But private and parochial schools, according to The Baltimore Sun, had signaled their wishes to open for in-person learning, citing their classes, which are smaller in size than public schools, could make them more flexible to follow social distancing guidelines.
But Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles in a statement Friday said that opening those schools in any capacity would be unsafe.
"At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers," Gayles said Friday, according to The Sun. "We have seen increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups, and this step is necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents."
Meanwhile, Delegate Eric Luedtke, Maryland's House majority leader and a resident of Montgomery County, blasted Hogan's statement as "entirely inappropriate."
"You're right about one thing, governor," he wrote. "This isn't a decision for politicians. Which is why this decision was made by the county's health officer, a public health expert."
But Republicans in Maryland urged Hogan to overturn the county’s decision, with the state's House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga claiming that private schools were being denied the freedom to choose how to run their schools.
"This is a blatant abuse of power by an unelected bureaucrat," House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga told The Baltimore Sun. "To threaten imprisonment for the act of reopening a religious school is draconian and flies in the face of the religious freedoms this state was founded on."