WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump continues to push for schools to open in the fall amid the coronavirus, a battle over school reopenings in Maryland affects when his youngest son can attend school in person.
Barron Trump’s private school, where he is scheduled to begin high school Sept. 8, is located in the Maryland county where nonpublic schools were mandated to remain closed to in-person instruction through at least Oct. 1 in an order issued Friday.
But on Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, blocked that order, allowing private schools to decide for themselves whether they will reopen, as long as they adhere to state and Centers for Disease Control Prevention guidelines about safe reopening.
“This is a decision for schools and parents, not politicians,” Hogan said in a statement on Friday expressing disagreement with the local order.
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The Montgomery County, Maryland order issued Friday prohibited private and independent schools from reopening in person, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal School where 14-year-old Barron will be attending. Health officer Dr. Travis Gayles cited “increases in transmission rates for COVID-19 in the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, particularly in younger age groups” in a statement about the order.
Hogan said that the Montgomery County order was “overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer.”
The county’s executive Marc Elrich said Monday that the decision “was made with one concern in mind – protecting the public health of our residents… we used data and science to guide us – not politics.”
The president has repeatedly claimed that children pose less of a risk of spreading COVID-19, and that there are greater public health risks with keeping students out of school. He has downplayed the severity of case increases, attributing them to higher testing rates, though his own public health experts have disputed that as the sole reason.
Health experts say that while children are at a decreased risk of contracting the virus and becoming seriously ill, they do spread it. A South Korean study found that children under 10 spread the virus less than adults do, but those between the ages of 10 and 19 spread the virus at least as well as adults.
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“They don’t catch it easily, they don’t bring it home easily. And if they do catch it, they get better fast,” Trump said at a press briefing July 22.
Some education professionals warn that children could transmit the virus to more vulnerable community members, including teachers. They have also said many schools are unprepared to safely reopen due to factors such as class sizes and difficulty enforcing social distancing among children.
“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement. Current CDC guidelines say schools should consider virtual learning if their community has “substantial, uncontrolled transmission.”
Last month, Trump suggested withholding federal funding from schools that do not reopen fully. He slightly softened his stance later in July when he said districts in coronavirus hot spots may need to “delay” their openings, and that it would be up to governors, but “every district should be actively making preparations to open.”
Asked about sending his son and grandchildren back to school in person last month, Trump said he would be “comfortable” with it. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said that it will be a “personal decision” made by the president and first lady and that she did not know what Barron’s school had decided.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal has been developing plans for two potential learning models for the school year, according to its website: an entirely virtual model, and a hybrid between virtual and in-person instruction. “We are hopeful that in September most of our students will be able to return to on-campus learning and relationships,” school administrators said in a letter to families. The school said it would inform families of a decision the week of Aug. 10.
The hybrid model for grades 7-12 would consist of half the students learning from home and half in-person rotating each week.
The White House has called for all schools to reopen for in-person instruction, with no requirements for part-time virtual learning.
“The president has said unmistakably that he wants schools to open. And when he says open, he means open in full, kids being able to attend each and every day at their school,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said July 16.