Maryland Health Official Will Allow Private Schools to Open following Lawsuit Threat

The health officer for Montgomery County, Md., issued an executive order on Friday allowing private schools in the county to open for in-person classes, following pressure from the governor’s office as well as a looming lawsuit.

Health officer Travis Gayles issued an order last week mandating that all schools in the county, including private schools, conduct remote learning until at least October 1. While Gayles said that coronavirus transmission in the county was too high to reopen schools, Governor Larry Hogan issued his own executive order earlier this week allowing schools themselves to decide whether to reopen on a case-by-case basis.

“I continue to strongly believe that based on the current state of surveillance and epidemiological data, it is neither safe nor in the interest of public health for any school to return for in-person learning this fall,” Gayles wrote in his Friday order. Local officials wanted to allow schools to open once the county reported about ten new coronavirus cases per day, while as of Friday the rate was roughly 76 per day.

However, Gayles continued, the Maryland Health Department “issued a memorandum announcing that it is a health policy of the State to not issue blanket orders closing nonpublic schools,” and Montgomery County would follow that memorandum.

Several parents of private school students in the area had sued the county over the closure.

“This County’s order targeting religious and private schools for closure was the only one of its kind in the entire country,” Timothy Maloney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Tuesday. “It was plainly unconstitutional. It disrupted the lives of thousands of Montgomery County families.”

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