Gov. Larry Hogan and Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon acted in the best interest of Maryland public school students and their parents by allowing individual jurisdictions to determine how and when to resume classes during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We anticipated a blanket announcement Wednesday during a news conference in Annapolis, either a mandated return to in-person instruction or statewide virtual classroom scenario, but officials basically said the decision rested with leaders in each county. 

Salmon said all school systems should work toward returning pupils to actual classrooms by the end of the year, but permitted districts to make their own choices on modes of instruction as the new fall term begins.

Trying to strike a balance between education and well-being, Salmon said school boards must adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for schools, provide safe transportation and develop a procedure for taking attendance, among other criteria.

Leaders have until Aug. 14 to develop and submit education and recovery blueprints for state review. Allegany County will share plans with the public on Aug. 11, looking at opening doors to students on Aug. 26. Garrett County leaders voted to postpone the start of school until Sept. 8, just as Gov. Jim Justice did for the entire state of West Virginia.

Most of the school systems in the Baltimore area have already announced plans to begin the school year online, including Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties. Following the news conference Wednesday, the president of the Maryland State Education Association, the statewide teachers union, called on every school system to at least start out that way.

We have said all along that each municipality is different, that what is right for a more heavily populated or wealthier part of the state may not be a good fit for those of us in more rural, less affluent regions.

Western Maryland lawmakers wrote to Hogan back in early May, requesting a regional approach to reopening the state. After the governor lifted his stay-at-home order and allowed partial resumption of normal commerce, Allegany County Board of Commissioners President Jake Shade had this to say: “We appreciate the governor giving us the authority to kind of make our own decisions instead of one size fits all.”

Giving each school system a say in the matter is the proper way forward in these trying times.

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