ANNAPOLIS — As an initial two-week closure of Maryland public schools neared its March 27 end, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced a further four-week shutdown to last through April 24 in response to the spreading novel coronavirus.
The decision was announced during a news conference held by Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday, March 25, at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
The school decision was made by the State Board of Education after “lengthy discussions” with Maryland health experts, Salmon said.
“We do not make this decision lightly. However, with the challenges facing our state and our country, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our school communities and the community at large,” the superintendent said.
Salmon said it is “too soon” to definitively say when schools will reopen given the fast-changing circumstances surrounding COVID-19’s spread. She said the state “will continue to reassess the situation as we move forward.”
The move to extend the school shutdown came two days after Hogan ordered the closure of nonessential businesses.
Hogan clarified at a March 23 news conference that the move is not a stay-at-home directive.
Rather than order people to stay home, Hogan said, he determined it would be more effective to close the nonessential places people might gather. He still urged people to stay home and avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people.
“Our orders, we believe, are more encompassing and perhaps more effective (than a shelter-in-place order),” Hogan said. “It’s all semantics, really. Some states have said, ‘There’s a shelter-in-place order, but we’re going to leave all these businesses open.’
“We’ve said, ‘We want you to stay in your house, but we’re going to close all of these things.’ I think our actions are actually more aggressive than some states who have ordered shelter-in-place, but it’s not as draconian as locking people in their homes,” Hogan said, calling the directive a “better, smarter action for us.
On March 25, Salmon said the Maryland State Department of Education’s immediate focus is fine-tuning local school systems’ educational plans and ensuring each jurisdiction has equal access to resources they might need during the prolonged closure.
“My staff at (MSDE) has been reviewing the (local superintendents’) plans to determine what support and resources the state can provide where needed,” she said. “More information will become available in the coming days as we work collaboratively on a statewide plan that maintains equitable standards and expectations for students.”
Salmon said local school systems are responsible for communicating with their individual communities as they move forward with implementing their plans.
When asked whether summer school is on the table for students to make up for lost educational time, Salmon said the state is “going to look at all kinds of creative solutions going forward.”
“We may look at an extended year, but we’re trying to get geared up to do the continuity of learning piece first and then we’ll have some time,” the superintendent said. “Once we get that down and understand how effective that is, then we can start planning for other kinds of things we might need to do.”
Last week, on the heels of Maryland’s first coronavirus death and a reported case of the virus in a 5-year-old girl from Howard County, Hogan closed shopping malls and entertainment venues, called for online-only instruction for colleges until summer and placed limitations on airport access and nonessential travel.
Also on March 19, Hogan prohibited groups of more than 10 people from gathering — a significant change from the 50-person limit imposed just days before — because “despite all of our repeated warnings for weeks, and despite the rapid escalation of this virus across our state, region, the nation and the world, some people are treating this like a vacation or a spring break, with parties, cookouts and large gatherings at some of our parks,” Hogan said.
“Let me be very clear: If you are engaged in this type of activity, you are in violation of state law and you are endangering the lives of your fellow Marylanders,” he said on March 19.
Hogan urged Marylanders to stick together, saying, “If we all do our part, if we rise to this challenge to meet this moment, we will get through this together. I just ask that you continue to pray for each other, for our state and for our nation.”
Hogan’s administration also rolled out a “Maryland Unites” website residents can visit to learn about ways they can volunteer to assist neighbors and community members as the virus continues to alter the daily lives of many: www.governor.maryland.gov/marylandunites.