Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland will require masks for all students and staff in school buildings — regardless of vaccination status — when the new school year starts next month.
The school system, which is Maryland’s largest, unveiled the universal mask requirements during the Montgomery County Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday. The mask rules for next school year are a continuation of current policies, but the school system is aiming to have most students back in classrooms for in-person learning starting next month.
The board voted unanimously to endorse the measure, which was not required but showed the board’s support for the move.
School officials said the move is designed to thwart transmission of the virus and to protect students, many of whom are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Monifa McKnight, the interim superintendent of schools, said between 45% and 52% of the school system’s student population is under 12 and not yet eligible for any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines.
Face coverings will also be required on Montgomery County school buses but will not be required outdoors on school property. Unvaccinated students and staff, however, will be strongly encouraged to mask outside.
Eugenia Dawson, the school system’s chief of finance and operations, said a universal indoor mask requirement makes compliance easier to monitor than two-tiered system that would require administrators to monitor the vaccination status of students and teachers.
“In the absence of schools being able to conduct this monitoring, universal masking is the best and most effective strategy,” she said.
Overall, as COVID-19 case numbers rise across the nation, guidance is quickly shifting.
“Information is coming forward every day, every week,” said McKnight, pointing to shifting mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. McKnight said she planned to revisit the mask mandate on a quarterly basis based on the latest data on vaccinations and COVID transmission.
Board members supported the move as necessary to keep students in classrooms.
“I know that our community is eagerly awaiting full return, five days a week, as normal as possible,” said board member Patricia O’Neill. “And I realize masks are not 100% normal in the way we operated before, but health and safety has to be a priority.” She added, “back in May, none of us really knew anything about the delta variant and things are evolving.”
In addition to masks, McKnight discussed other steps to combat the potential spread of COVID-19 in schools, including working with the county on an easy testing process once students are back in classrooms.
McKnight told board members of the 26,000 students who have attended summer school, there have been just 13 documented cases of COVID-19.
Montgomery County’s decision on masks follows an announcement from the school system in neighboring Prince George’s County that masks would continue to be required for students, teachers and staff.
D.C. Public Schools has already announced that it will continue to require that masks be worn in the fall.
In Virginia, Alexandria and Fairfax County public schools will require masks for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.