School closures extended through May 15, officials evaluate steps toward COVID-19 recovery

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Gov. Larry Hogan says state officials are consulting new federal guidelines as they evaluate when and how to ease COVID-19 restrictions. Photo via Facebook Live.

State Superintendent Karen Salmon on Friday extended the closure of schools through May 15 and said state and local officials are exploring summer learning options.

Salmon said all school systems will be required to submit a continuity of learning plan for the Maryland State Department of Education to review.

Those plans will include descriptions of the roles of school leaders, staff, parents and students during distance-learning; a sample day for teachers and students; accountability plans for assessing student performance; and plans for how to address equity for students with additional needs, Salmon said.

Washington, D.C., a frequent collaborator with Maryland on responding to the pandemic, announced on Friday that city schools would close for the remainder of the academic year. But Salmon said her decision echoed the state’s incremental, deliberate approach to the pandemic, and it is worth waiting to assess conditions in a 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,” she said.

The state education department is also expecting $207 million from the federal CARES Act to help school systems obtain resources to aid with that continuity of learning, including additional devices, learning platforms and access to broadband, Salmon said.

Schools across Maryland are also exploring expanded summer school classes depending on when students are able to re-enter school buildings, Salmon said.

Gov. Larry Hogan said state officials are still evaluating when and how to ease restrictions that had been put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus in Maryland. In response to a planned protest this Saturday calling on the state to reopen, he said he understands people’s frustrations, but pointed out that even guidelines from the Trump administration call for 14 days of declines in hospitalizations, stays in the intensive care unit and deaths.

“All three of those categories have to be in a downward direction for 14 straight days before you can even consider the reopening of anything,” he said.

The guidelines, which allow governors to act at their own discretion, recommend a three-phase approach to “opening up” local economies.

Hogan said Maryland’s confirmed cases and deaths are continuing to rise. However, he added that the number of Marylanders who test positive for COVID-19 will rise as the state ramps up its testing capacity. The governor announced he will unveil “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recover” sometime next week.

Before Maryland begins its recovery process, Hogan said the state must continue to expand its testing capacity and hospitals’ surge capability, increase the supply of personal protective equipment, and develop a “robust” contact tracing operation.

In response to continued calls for the state to reduce its incarcerated population, Hogan said Maryland has already taken “almost all the actions” that criminal justice advocates have recommended.

Earlier this month, a coalition of groups that includes the ACLU of Maryland and Maryland Office of the Public Defender called for the release of “medically vulnerable” inmates, children and nonviolent offenders.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is working with local jails to temporarily suspend new intakes and is also using its discretion to release a limited number of individuals and place them on home detention or pretrial release, Mike Ricci, Hogan’s communications director, said last week.

Sonia Kumar, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, called those efforts “a drop in the bucket.”

Hogan said today the prison population has been reduced by 2,300 people. And he noted that it was “dramatically” reduced before the pandemic through the Justice Reinvestment Act, a 2017 law that eliminated mandatory minimums for controlled substance felonies and granted early release for many low-level offenders.

Robert Green, secretary of the department of corrections, “has been amazingly aggressive in our efforts to try to protect our prison staff and our prison population, and we’re continuing to take more steps every day,” Hogan said.

There are currently 136 confirmed cases in the state correctional system.

But in reference to the growing calls for further reductions to the prison population, including Maryland’s U.S. Senate delegation, Hogan said, “I’m not sure how many more letters we need to get to help us along in that process.”

Brandon Weigel contributed to this report.

Marcus Dieterle


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