The Maryland State Board of Education has voted to rescind its emergency regulation mandating the use of face masks in schools, pending legislative approval.
The Maryland General Assembly’s administrative, executive and legislative review committee will need to approve the measure before the state’s 24 school systems can ease masking rules in schools. The board identified March 1 as a target date for lifting the mandate and approved the measure in a 12-2 vote, with Holly Wilcox and Rachel McCusker casting the dissenting votes.
The board’s decision aligns with State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury’s recommendation Tuesday that local school systems decide whether masks should be required. And it comes after Republican Governor Larry Hogan called earlier this month for the mandate to be rescinded. He cited the availability of vaccines and recent improving health metrics following a COVID-19 surge.
In a statement Tuesday, Hogan thanked the State Board of Education for “heeding our call to rescind its school mask policy.” The General Assembly must act swiftly to ratify the decision, he said.
“This action aligns with the data and the science, the recommendation of the State Superintendent of Schools, and the guidance of medical professionals across the country,” Hogan said in the statement.
Meanwhile, representatives for the Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents classroom teachers and other certificated school employees, called the move “premature.”
“If it does go to local control, we hope local boards will use off ramps as guidance and work with students and educators who can’t be in school without masks,” said union president Cheryl Bost.
Before taking a vote on the matter, state board members heard public comment from parents, grandparents, union leaders, medical professionals and local school board members both in favor of and against masking. Board officials said they welcomed the public input and doubled the registration cap for public comment to 20 individuals due to an “influx of demand,” said spokeswoman Lora Rakowski.
The state board of education passed a universal mask mandate last August, and the measure was approved by the legislature’s joint committee in September.
Nearly three months later, the board established the benchmarks for lifting protocols.
Speaking at the board meeting Tuesday, Choudhury said the mandate had been an effective tool to keep schools open during multiple waves of cases.
“If I would go back, I would do it again, because it did what it needed to do,” he said.