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Health officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, made disparaging remarks about parents of children who attend religious and nonpublic schools after both parents and teachers objected to keeping schools closed last fall.
In email communications obtained by Washington Examiner senior columnist Timothy P. Carney, health officer Travis Gayles and his colleagues dismissed concerns raised by parents and nonpublic school faculty over school closures, accusing them of having "arrogance and privilege" without even considering their evidence-based arguments to open the schools.
Gayles is the chief of Public Health Services for Montgomery County. On July 31, 2020, he announced the blanket closure of all schools in the county, to which Jewish schools in Silver Spring, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, and other independent schools objected, citing the county's all-time low COVID-10 test positivity rate of 2.3% at the time.
In an Aug. 1 email to county health officials, a local orthodontist who is the spouse of a public school teacher wrote to request that the health department reconsider its decision to close schools. The orthodontist asked that officials from the department visit Bullis, one of the private schools that wished to stay open, and observe the public health protocols put in place to mitigate virus spread and protect the safety of school children.
"Bullis has exceeded my expectations for the safety of my precious youngest child. ... At the very least could you please provide the specific criteria which you would need to see achieved in MoCo and the necessary protocols in the schools in order to provide the critical and essential in person learning," the orthodontist wrote.
Gayles forwarded the email to his colleagues with a single comment: "The arrogance ..."
In reply, county Chief Equity Officer Tiffany Ward wrote, "SMDH, totally unsurprised by this." She added that alumni of Holton Arms, another private school in the area, were praising Gayles' decision to close the schools. "Want to let you know that Holton alums who are in the medical field are singing your praises and saying you made the right decision. Not sure what current parents are saying. But folks need to know they can't buy their way out of the needed pandemic precautions!"
Deputy Health Officer James Bridgers said the orthodontist's email displayed "absolute arrogance and privilege" in his reply to the email chain. "Imagine what you would do if your child was exposed? You mitigate risks by being overly cautious."
The Examiner reported that private school officials were taking an abundance of precautions to ensure the safety of their students, implementing plans to open safely that Montgomery County health officials ignored when making the decision to order schools closed.
In another Aug 1. email, a county Department of Health and Human Services employee named Shantee Jackson forwarded her colleagues a CNN article about Gayles' school closure order.
"Thanks…but why are on e-mail on a Saturday night lol," Gayles wrote in reply.
"It has been a long day and the privileged class of the county is showing their behinds as my grandmother would say," he continued. "We will continue to press ahead and do the work to keep our folks safe."
At a news conference Wednesday, Carney confronted Gayles about his written comments and Gayles said that the emails were taken "out of context and cast a light in terms of how you'd like to print your story." He added that the county stands by its health guidance.
In a statement to the Examiner, county spokesman Scott Peterson said, "The county does not have any animus towards any residents about any issue. All decisions made related to COVID guidance are always with the health and safety of all residents first and foremost as was done with guidance on the opening of schools."
Two days after Gayles issued the order to close Montgomery County schools, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued an amendment to Maryland's emergency declaration nullifying Gayles' order. A second attempt by Gayles to close nonpublic schools was also overruled by state health officials.
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