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Foxx, Oversight Republicans Probe One-Size-Fits-All School Reopening Orders
Members call for action to ensure children can safely return to school

Today, House Education and Labor Committee Republican Leader Virginia Foxx (R-NC), House Oversight and Reform Committee Republican Leader James Comer (R-KY), and Republican members of the Oversight Committee sent a letter to Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos probing the lawfulness of local orders prohibiting private and parochial schools from safely reopening and providing in-person instruction to students.
 
Recently, officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, issued a one-size-fits all order preventing private and parochial schools from providing in-person instruction despite the schools’ exhaustive preparations to safely reopen by following public health guidance. While the order has since been rescinded, the Oversight Committee Republican members express concern that other jurisdictions around the nation may also fail to consider the careful planning of private and parochial schools, even when those schools comply with public health requirements, and call for closure decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis. The members also warn that ongoing school closures harm students’ overall well-being and academic achievement, particularly impacting low-income, minority children, and those living with disabilities the most.
 
In their letter, the members request a briefing from the Department of Education to update the Committee on its efforts to ensure that children can safely attend schools in-person when they reopen. They also request any legal analysis of blanket orders closing all schools despite the schools’ adherence to public health protocols and what measures can be taken when local jurisdictions issue sweeping orders. 
 
Joining Republican Leaders Foxx and Comer in signing the letter are Representatives Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (R-AZ), Jody B. Hice (R-GA), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Clay Higgins (R-LA), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Carol D. Miller (R-WV), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), W. Gregory Steube (R-FL), and Fred Keller (R-PA).

Below is the full text of the letter.
 
The Honorable Betsy D. DeVos
Secretary
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

Officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, recently ordered that all schools in the county – including private and parochial schools – were prohibited from reopening for in-person instruction in the fall through at least October 1.  One-size-fits-all orders such as these are troubling.  In Montgomery County, the local government officials have sought to prevent private schools and parochial schools from reopening for in-person instruction despite following public health guidance.
 
To enforce their policy, Montgomery County officials threatened private schools with criminal liability, saying that those who opened for in-person instruction would face misdemeanor charges, up to a year in prison, and a fine of up to $5,000.  This is an outrageous abuse of power and an action taken without analysis of the circumstances.  The moratorium on in-person instruction was announced notwithstanding any consideration of schools’ exhaustive preparations to ensure the safety of students and teachers.  It was announced without any consideration of schools’ sizes or ability and willingness to rigorously implement public health guidance.  And it was announced without any consideration of the decisions that parents had already made about whether their children should take advantage of in-person instruction options.
 
Fortunately, the governor of Maryland issued an executive order that only permits local health officials to shut down a private or parochial school for cause on a case-by-case basis. Montgomery County officials initially persisted in the face of the executive order, issuing a new order prohibiting private schools from reopening through at least October 1st.  That order was rescinded by the County on August 7.
 
We are concerned that other jurisdictions around the country may also fail to consider the careful planning of private and parochial schools, even when those schools comply with public health requirements.  If schools follow public health requirements, they should be able to make their own decisions about whether and how to reopen, and students should not be deprived of such opportunities.  This is especially true given the child-care crisis confronting our nation.  Government officials must consider schools’ plans on a case-by-case basis and refrain from issuing blanket orders that foreclose the possibility of in-person instruction blindly across the board when schools are operating cautiously. 
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes the importance of in-person education, and that “the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic wellbeing, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant.”  The CDC also notes that low-income, minority children, and those living with disabilities are particularly at risk to the harms presented by closed schools.  Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
 
To determine how Congress should address this issue and ensure that private and parochial schools are not unnecessarily shut down, we request a staff-level briefing from the Department of Education to update the Committee on its efforts to ensure schools are safely reopening for children, as well as to answer the following questions:

  1. Does the Department of Education agree that private and parochial schools should be able to make their own decisions about whether to reopen for in-person instruction?
     
  2. Has the Department of Education conducted a legal analysis of whether a local government may prohibit all private schools in that jurisdiction from reopening notwithstanding that school’s adherence to public health guidelines? If so, please provide that analysis to the Committee.
     
  3. Whether or not such orders are legally valid, what measures are available to the Department of Education to prevent punitive measures taken by public officials against private and parochial schools who seek to reopen consistent with public health guidance?
     
  4. How will the Department of Education ensure that schools are permitted to reopen consistent with CDC guidelines for in-person instruction to prevent the serious harms associated by closed schools?

To schedule the briefing or ask any follow-up or related questions, please contact Committee on Oversight and Reform staff at (202) 225-5074.

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the principal oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate “any matter” at “any time” under House Rule X. Thank you in advance for your cooperation with this inquiry.
 
Sincerely,
 
James Comer
Republican Leader
House Committee on Oversight and Reform
 
Virginia Foxx
Republican Leader
House Committee on Education and Labor
 
Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S.  
Member of Congress
 
Jody B. Hice
Member of Congress
 
Glenn Grothman
Member of Congress   
 
Bob Gibbs
Member of Congress
                                               
Clay Higgins
Member of Congress
 
Ralph Norman
Member of Congress
 
Carol D. Miller
Member of Congress
 
Kelly Armstrong
Member of Congress
                                   
W. Gregory Steube
Member of Congress
 
Fred Keller
Member of Congress

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