Local health official defies GOP governor to keep schools shut down

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A Maryland county health official ordered private schools to remain closed 'to keep kids safe' during the pandemic.

A Montgomery County, Maryland, health official on Wednesday defied Gov. Larry Hogan's emergency order banning local health officials in the state from mandating school closing by declaring that "nonpublic" schools in his county must remain closed to in-person instruction at least through Oct. 1.

In his "Health Officer Directive and Order Regarding Nonpublic Schools," Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County's chief of public health services, wrote that "the current surveillance and epidemiological data do not support the safe reopening of schools for in-person instruction in any capacity in Montgomery County."

Gayles' previous order requiring all private and religious schools in the county to remain closed, issued on July 31, was overruled by Hogan on Monday.

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Hogan amended a statewide emergency order in order to prohibit local health officials from making broad decisions on school closures. "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," Hogan said in a statement.

"One thing that I think has been lost in this conversation — and it is a little frustrating — is that the purpose behind what we're doing is to keep kids safe, and to keep staff members safe and family members at home," Gayles said at a press briefing shortly before he issued the new order.

Maryland experienced statewide increases in the number of new coronavirus cases over the summer after Hogan allowed many businesses to reopen. On July 20, health officials from several counties, including Montgomery, urged Hogan to "take action to curb these trends, including revisiting the activities allowed" under his executive orders.

In response, Hogan's spokesperson said the governor was "prepared to take action," but blamed the rising number of cases on "a small segment of bad actors."

As of Thursday, the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Maryland had increased by 19% over the past week compared to the previous week, according to the New York Times. Montgomery County has seen 674 new cases in the past seven days, and the county has averaged one death per day in the same period.

When Hogan issued a statewide order to close schools on March 12, the entire state of Maryland was averaging one new case per week, according to data from the Times.

Some parents in Montgomery County have filed a lawsuit over the school closures. Kim Beahn, a plaintiff in the suit whose three children attend a private religious school, told WTOP that they were feeling "depressed, and confused, and very frustrated" at the possibility of not returning to the classroom.

"I can't even imagine going into the cold, dark days of fall and winter with no sports, no school, no social interaction," she added.

Several schools across the country that have reopened have already experienced coronavirus outbreaks. One school in Indiana was forced to quarantine nearly 50 students after several students tested positive.

On Monday, a second-grader at a Cherokee County school in Georgia tested positive for coronavirus on the first day of school.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.