In an expose relying upon emails obtained through Freedom of Information requests, Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner uncovered a disturbing pattern of personal animus by Montgomery County’s health officer Travis Gayles against religious and nonpublic schools and their parents. [i]
Wrote Gayles in August while his school closure orders were being challenged: “It has been a long day, and the privileged class of the county is showing their behinds as my grandmother would say.”
In response to an email citing good-faith efforts to make schools safe for opening, Gayles forwarded the message to colleagues, commenting only, “The arrogance…”
The email exchanges among Gayles and his colleagues reveal an intense hostility toward the county’s religious and nonpublic schools and their parents. The emails dismiss parents’ and schools’ arguments against closure as examples of “privilege” and “arrogance.” They never address the merits or “science” of the reopening plans. Among Gayles’ email correspondents is the county’s Chief Equity Officer, Tiffany Ward. [ii] Her responses make clear that she does not consider her “equity” remit as extending to religious school parents.
When Gayles announced his blanket closure of all nonpublic schools last summer, the county had hit its all-time low in COVID-19 test positivity, and no other area county or city had issued a similar school closure order. Within hours of the Gayles COVID diktat, Jewish schools in Silver Spring, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, and some independent schools were preparing lawsuits.
As the Washington Examiner reported at the time, the nonpublic schools were mitigating risks with carefully considered proposals.
“We have been preparing to open with all safety precautions suggested by state, county, and the CDC,” explained Rebecca Prater, principal of the Fellowship Christian School in Germantown. [iii]
“We put a lot of effort,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Merkin, headmaster of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in Silver Spring. “We worked very hard. We’ve been working with experts from NIH on infectious disease. … We had a whole plan.”[iv]
However, Gayles simply refused to review their plans.
Gayles’ closure order triggered a tug of war with Governor Hogan, which ultimately Gayles lost. Two days after Gayles’ order, Gov. Larry Hogan nullified it by amending the state’s emergency declaration. Gayles responded later that week with a new order closing all nonpublic schools, but Hogan’s health department struck that down as well.
Not long after his bias-ridden emails, Gayles sought sympathy in the media, complaining that he had received derogatory and racist messages. While acknowledging that none of them contained any threats, he nevertheless revealed that he had also talked to the Montgomery County Police Department about possible security protection. [v]
After Gayles lost his campaign to close Montgomery County’s nonpublic schools and they reopened, there has been precisely one COVID-19 hospitalization and zero deaths from the schools.
Commenting on the Gayles emails revealed by the Washington Examiner, Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted: “I’m disgusted to read of the contempt Montgomery County health officials showed for concerned parents, teachers, and school administrators who worked hard to give children the opportunity to get safely back into the classroom.”[vi]
Republican candidate for Montgomery County Council At- Large Dwight Patel responded: “Montgomery County Health Commissar Travis Gayles should be fired immediately for being a two-bit partisan tool of the Teachers Union, hyper-partisan County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich.”
[iv] “Private schools were taking extensive coronavirus precautions. Maryland bureaucrats didn’t care.”