Statement from the Catholic Schools Office Regarding Montgomery County Directives and the Opening of Private Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Archdiocese of Washington was grateful to learn that the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services rescinded its previous order, which sought to prohibit County non-public schools from reopening for in-person instruction before October 1, 2020.  We are likewise grateful for Maryland Governor Hogan’s Executive Order and the related guidance from the Maryland Department of Health issued earlier in the week that reaffirmed the autonomy of parochial schools and non-public schools to make their own re-opening decisions. We will continue to implement reopening plans consistent with the State’s guidance.

Interim Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington Kelly Branaman stated “I am grateful that the County recognized the autonomy of non-public schools to make local decisions on reopening in a safe and appropriate manner. As we have done throughout this entire process, we will continue to work with our schools to make the decisions that work best for each of our individual school communities,” stated Ms. Kelly Branaman.

Great care has been taken by the Archdiocese and our school leaders to ensure that local plans implement current local, state, and national guidelines for reopening schools and are appropriately responsive to the needs of the students and communities they serve. “We are not faced with the challenges of large class sizes, busing, and crowded eating spaces.” Ms. Branaman continued.

As the State Health Department recognized that, “childcare and summer camps are some examples of where reasonable precautions, in line with CDC guidance and common-sense steps by Marylanders, have resulted in a balance between minimizing the risks posed by COVID-19 and providing children with the necessary educational opportunities. The experience over the summer has shown that a careful approach of individualized planning for facilities has yielded success in minimizing outbreaks.” The Archdiocese school plans follow in a similar vein.  In fact, Ms. Branaman reiterated, “Many of our school enrollments are similar in size to approved and currently operational childcare centers in Montgomery County.” The Archdiocese of Washington currently has three such early learning centers operational under approved childcare licenses.

Taking into account enrollments, facility size and parent feedback, schools across the Archdiocese of Washington have organized local reopening task force teams and prepared local reopening plans.  Varied models include in-person learning with full enrollments returning to school – with stringent health and safety protocols – while other schools have determined that all distance learning is preferred for their communities. The majority of schools across the Archdiocese have planned a hybrid model, implementing both in-person and distance learning. The Catholic Schools Office is also working with individual families that prefer distance learning but may be currently enrolled in a school that has plans to reopen in-person or with a hybrid model.

“It is important that parents have a choice in determining what is best for their child. No family will be required to attend an in person-learning model,” says interim superintendent Kelly Branaman. “Options for distance learning may be provided within their current school or the Catholic Schools Office will work with families and school leaders for a temporary transfer to a distance learning platform within the Archdiocese of Washington, for any family that may require it.”

The Catholic Schools Office is also continuously monitoring local data and conditions, along with any additional reopening guidance that becomes available, in order to ensure that we are partnering with our schools to make informed decisions that are consistent with best practices and that meet the needs of their parish communities. The physical, emotional, and spiritual health and wellbeing of our students, families, and staff remain at the forefront of all reopening efforts.

The Archdiocese of Washington continues to adjust, review and approve local school reopening plans for schools across the Archdiocese. Many plans are public on school websites within their local communities.

Next week, the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools Office will publish its new school year reopening plan to share the final varied school plans across our region.