Opinion: Commentary: MoCo Residents Deserved Input Before Closing Schools

As mothers and grandmothers, the 400 members of the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women (MCFRW) applaud Governor Larry Hogan for overturning the Montgomery County Health Officer’s directive to keep nonpublic schools closed.

After the Health Officer’s announcement on Friday evening, July 31, many of our members expressed outrage about this sudden decision that oversteps county government boundaries. Private and parochial schools were blind-sided, as many were preparing for their students to return to school at considerable expense, for either full-time or a hybrid of virtual and in-class instruction. Our members were not alone. A grassroots, on-line, county-wide petition protesting the Health Officer’s directive, generated over 2,300 signatures in just one day.

Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women expects transparency and community involvement in important community decisions. When an un-elected employee of an operational department orders the closing of non-public schools, we expect residents to have had input beforehand and to have an understanding of the metrics involved in the decision.

County Councilman Andrew Friedson raised important questions in a letter to Dr. Gayles, the County Health Officer, on Monday, August 3. However, since the County Council sits as the County Public Board of Health, frequently meeting with Dr. Gayles and other public health officials, we question how this decision could be made without knowledge and concurrence of the Council.

Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women supports science and data to determine whether students and teachers can return to schools safely. We reviewed the CDC guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines and other scientific measures to inform us about the COVID-19 Pandemic. Private schools were working hard to follow these guidelines in the best interest of their students and staff. MCFRW also recognizes there are many other risks associated with public school children who are confined to virtual learning –isolation, depression, mental health problems, suicide, child abuse, substance abuse, food insecurity, internet safety, etc. While we know that in-school learning comes with some risks associated with COVID-19, we feel that proper planning and precautions can mitigate those risks. We urge the MCPS leadership to develop protocols that would allow those who wish to return to school to do so, while providing on-line learning for those who wish to learn from home.

We are particularly concerned about the children of both private and public schools who are from low income families. While some families have a choice of private schools, many others can’t afford it. Montgomery County needs to provide residents with greater school choice, including charter schools and school vouchers. Maryland is near the bottom of all states, ranking 46th in Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States index. If MCPS cannot respond and adapt to emergency situations like the pandemic, then ALL parents should be allowed to pursue other options so their children’s education does not suffer. Thus, we look forward to working in the 2021 legislative session to improve choices for all families, as this pandemic has clearly revealed the limits our state has in school choice.

Sharon Bauer

President, Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women