Private schools threatened with closures so public schools wouldn't look bad for keeping doors shut

Teachers' unions are using COVID-19 as a weapon with which to bully private schools into remaining closed in order to sever any chance at competition.
Nicole Russell Texas, US

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan just issued an emergency order prohibiting local officials from enforcing blanket school closures. This comes just days after a Montgomery County official ordered all private schools to close against both public outcry, CDC guidelines, and federal and state law. In his statement, Hogan called the blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County officials "overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer."

Hogan tweeted, "I have issued an amended emergency order ensuring that local schools and school systems retain the primary authority to determine when to safely reopen their facilities." His statement, which he included below his tweet reads, in part, "Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines."

In a tweet Monday, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich attempted to explain why the county, without any authority whatsoever, decided to "close" private schools until October 1, against the CDC guidelines which are encouraging schools to open for in-person classes soon.

Despite the reversal since Hogan has quashed it, the directive was thorough, clear, and showed a disturbing trend of prioritizing teachers' unions over parental choice: The order essentially said to close private schools, because keeping them open "would damage the image and credibility of public school administrators and teachers' unions if private schools succeeded with in-person learning this fall..."

I don't think I've seen such an admittance by state officials that they are kowtowing to teachers' unions, which are using COVID-19 as a weapon with which to bully private schools into remaining closed in order to sever any chance at competition.

The decision was also a blatant violation of the rights of private schools which are privately funded and often religious in nature. Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications to First Liberty Institute, and Jamison Coppola, Legislative Director for American Association of Christian Schools, said in a joint statement:

"We appreciate Governor Hogan's efforts to balance the needs for public health while respecting the freedom, and religious autonomy, of private, religious institutions.  We share his concern for the health and safety of the hundreds of private, Christian students and teachers in Maryland and thousands throughout the country.  

"Not only are we committed to following appropriate health and safety guidance from the CDC and other public health agencies, we agree with Governor Hogan that blanket dictates from central planning rarely provide the freedom and flexibility to develop appropriate plans that meet the needs of Maryland’s private, Christian schools.  Those plans are best developed by the parents and local private school administrators who care more than anyone else for the health and safety of their school community."

Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney is a father of six who sends his children to a private school in Maryland. He wrote four scathing columns on the topic before Hogan reversed the directive. He was outraged at the hubris of County Health Office Travis Gayles, who originally issued the order to shutter private schools, thereby removing from parents the right to choose in-person or online school.

He blasted Gayles' sneakiness in a column, "Not only did Gayles wait until after business hours Friday, he waited until after sundown, ensuring that the Orthodox Jewish communities in the county wouldn't learn immediately that he was closing their schools against their wishes."

The entire thing was an exercise of authoritarian power, with a public health crisis as a ruse, to both quash religious liberties and keep teachers' unions from competition that might outdo public schools' performances and affect their reputation long-term. While I'm glad Governor Hogan intervened, such a grievous abuse of local power shouldn't happen, public health crisis notwithstanding. Parents sacrificing to send their children to private school should have the right to do so regardless, as they are not subject to the whims of any local authority, no matter how petty or under the thumb of teachers' unions he may be.

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Nicole Russell
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