Second GOP governor overrules health officials to let schools reopen

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan sided with private schools over public health.

On Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan rewrote an executive order prohibiting local health officials from implementing blanket school closures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hogan's revised order, originally issued on April 5, was in direct response to Montgomery County, one of the state's most populous counties where health officials recently ordered all schools — both public and private —  to remain closed for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1.

In a statement about the order, Hogan called the county's action "overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer," insisting that private and religious-based schools deserve "flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines."

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Hogan added that Maryland's recovery is "based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics."

Montgomery County is home to St. Andrew's Episcopal School, the private school where Barron Trump, Donald Trump's son, is enrolled. Trump has been an outspoken proponent of reopening schools despite potential risks to students, teachers, or school employees.

If the county order had held, St. Andrew's would have been forced to remain closed along with the rest of the schools in the area.

The governor's office said Hogan did not consider Trump's situation when making his decision, according to the Washington Post.

A local official previously stated that politics did not play a role in the original decision to close schools.

"It wasn't a political decision," Marc Elrich, the county executive, told the Post over the weekend. "It was a health department decision."

Travis Gayles, the county official who made the decision, is not an elected politician. A former pediatrician, Gayles has served as the county's chief of public health services for three years and previously worked as the chief medical officer for Washington, D.C., according to his LinkedIn profile.

Montgomery County has averaged about 80 new coronavirus cases per day, local officials said at a press conference Monday to address the decision. When Hogan ordered schools to be closed in the spring because of the pandemic, the county was averaging just four new coronavirus cases per day, they noted.

Hogan is the second Republican governor in less than a week to overrule health officials on the issue of reopening schools.

On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a joint statement with top Republican officials declaring that the "authority to decide when the school year will begin lies with local school boards," not health officials. Prior to the statement, health officials in at least 16 localities had ordered schools to remain closed to in-person instruction.

In mid-July, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, also a Republican, issued an order requiring students to spend at least half their time in classroom instruction this fall even if doing so puts students, teachers, and staff at risk, the Associated Press reported.

Coronavirus outbreaks have already impacted several schools in Indiana, the first state in the nation to start the new academic year.

Just days after opening, an Elwood school closed for a week after at least one staffer tested positive for coronavirus. After four students at a Lanesville school tested positive, the school was closed for a day and nearly 50 students were required to quarantine before being allowed back.

One of the nation's top health officials has warned schools against reopening too early, due to the potential for more outbreaks.

In areas where cases are high, schools should "distance learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control," Dr. Deborah Birx, lead expert on the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN on Sunday.

"In the areas where we have this widespread case increase, we need to stop the cases, and then we can talk about safely reopening [schools]," she added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.