Members of the Maryland State Board of Education weighed in Tuesday on whether to keep the state’s school mask mandate in place.
The board heard hours of testimony from parents, county school board officials from across the state, and medical professionals on the merits and the objections to requiring masks be worn in schools.
State school board President Clarence Crawford said the board was in “listening mode,” but by the end of the afternoon’s session, he added, “I was disappointed that we didn’t get a silver bullet” from the panels of experts.
Crawford urged his colleagues to take time to consider what they heard. “What we need to do is take all this information into account and then come up with a thoughtful, appropriate way forward” when the state board of education meets next month, he said.
One of the panelists, Dr. Lucy McBride, an internist in D.C., told board members that it’s time to think about “removing a medical intervention whose benefits are not clear, and that does have harm.”
McBride said masks are not a “zero-harm intervention” and that 22 months into the pandemic, “We still don’t have clear evidence that masks in school are reducing transmission.”
Lawrence Gostin, a professor and director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University’s Law Center, said he had to “strongly disagree” with McBride on the efficacy of masks.
He said that he hates wearing a mask and knows that children heat wearing them even more.
“It’s not pleasant or ideal or a good educational experience, but from a public health point of view, I think they’re justified,” Gostin said.
When asked what the “off ramp” to the coronavirus pandemic would be, Dr. Monique Soileau-Burke, with the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, responded, “It is the vaccine.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro-mask person at school or an anti-mask person or a somewhere-in- the-middle person,” Soileau-Burke said. “The answer to getting our kids out of masks altogether is to get them vaccinated. Period.”
Cheryl Bost, the president of the Maryland State Education Association which represents teachers, told the board, “We support an extension of the mask mandate, allowing for a future decision and discussion.”
Bost said the slight uptick seen in transmission rates is why she wants the mandate extended, and with holidays approaching, “We will need time to assess the risk.”
The public was able to comment during the special board of education meeting. Kit Hart, who signed up to speak, opposes the mask mandate.
“Our society now has the soul of an abusive parent,” Hart told the board. “All of us know at our core, that there is something sinister and cruel about covering the faces of healthy children.”
Raymond Russell, the parent of an elementary school student in Worcester County on the Eastern Shore, asked the board to keep the mask mandate in place. He said that vaccines for young children had only recently been made available, and that it would be weeks before many are fully vaccinated.
“So I implore you to keep the critical protection measures of masks in place statewide until families of children over 5 have had ample opportunity to fully vaccinate their children,” Russell said.
The Maryland State Board of Education’s next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 1.
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