By William J. Ford
The Maryland State Board of Education nearly voted unanimously Tuesday to rescind an emergency declaration requiring masks and face coverings in public schools.
Prior to the board’s 12-2 vote, it heard a recorded presentation from Dr. Jinlene Chan with the state’s Health Department, who summarized some COVID-19 metrics: positivity rate below 3%; hospitalizations decreased to 540 patients; and how almost 78% of the state population remains fully vaccinated, compared to 65% of the total U.S. population.
In addition, Chen said vaccines, masks and even at-home COVID-19 are provided by the state and local health departments.
“Given the improving health metrics, it is appropriate for the local boards of education to make the decisions which they feel are in the best interest of the students they serve,” said board vice president Charles Dashiell Jr., who made the motion to grant local control back to the 23 county and Baltimore City school systems.
Board members Rachel McCusker of Carroll County and Dr. Holly Wilcox of Baltimore City voted in opposition of the decision.
March 1 became identified as the target date to allow school systems to end masks requirements in the buildings, but solicitor Elliott Schoen reminded the board the decision made last year came through an emergency declaration.
Although the school board approved it in August, a state legislative committee granted final approval a month later to require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks and face coverings inside all school buildings.
Lawmakers on the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review are permitted to make the final decision on emergency declarations. With lawmakers currently in the 90-day session that ends April 11, it’s unclear when the committee would meet to discuss the school board’s decision and then vote.
Gov. Larry Hogan, who’s urged the school board for several weeks to rescind the school mask policy, called Tuesday’s decision “a major step for normalcy.”
The governor thanked the board and parents who spoke out in support of eliminating mask requirements, but also had a message for the legislature.
“The General Assembly must now act swiftly to ratify the State Board’s decision,” he said in a statement.
Not everyone spoke in favor to make a decision Tuesday, especially when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may announce a change in mask recommendations this week.
“The current regulations are workings and [school] systems are reaching safe levels of off-ramps as designed,” said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association. “You have the opportunity to wait a week or two for the scientific guidance before making a decision. If you take a decision today…you must allow systems and families transitional time to make decisions.”
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