Maryland Governor Issues Executive Order Blocking Blanket Private School Closures

Maryland governor Larry Hogan (R., Md.,) holds a news conference in Annapolis, Md., July 22, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Maryland governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order Monday voiding Montgomery County’s order banning in-person schooling at non-public schools. 

“Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines,” Hogan said in a statement. “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.”

Montgomery County’s health officer Travis Gayles issued an order on Friday prohibiting non-public schools from from holding in-person instruction through at least Oct. 1, ignoring state and federal guidelines.

Gayles, an unelected official who said he was acting as a “designee” for the state secretary of health under Hogan’s Declaration of Catastrophic Health Emergency, had declined to consider the extensive plans many schools had drafted to allow for safe reopenings. He cited increasing COVID-19 transmission rates in Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland as the reason for the ban.

However, Montgomery County has had a daily increase in cases of less than 1% every day since July 7, lower than the state increase, which was at least 1% for 12 of the past 21 days, Bethesda Magazine reported.

The health officer’s decision had drawn sharp criticism from parents — a private Facebook group called “Open Montgomery County, MD Private Schools” created on Saturday already had more than 3,600 members by Monday morning, according to Bethesda Magazine.  

Hogan’s latest order explicitly rescinds counties’ power to shutter schools without state permission, amending his previous order. 

“To be clear, Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics,” the governor said. “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.”

Local health departments still have the ability to close any individual facility deemed unsafe under an earlier emergency order issued on April 5.

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