Maryland state education officials want mask mandate policy with ‘off ramp’ for schools

Maryland’s current statewide mask mandate in public schools is staying in place for now.

On Wednesday, the members of the State Board of Education voted 12-2 to come up with a new emergency mandate that would provide an “off ramp” for school districts.

State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury told board members that whatever they decide, they should keep two things in mind: “No single school should have to close down because of COVID,” and quarantines should be minimized.

During the discussion, board members raised questions on what metrics should be applied in a new mandate and whether school districts should be given more authority over mask policies.

At the same time the state school board was meeting, Gov. Larry Hogan was holding a news conference on COVID-19.

On a question over the mask mandate, Hogan said, “I don’t think we need to change the policy, at this point, but that really is an independent board that makes their own decisions.” He had not spoken to any members of the board, he said.

Board member Brig. Gen. (Retired) Warner Sumpter told his colleagues that he favored giving more weight to the decisions of each school district. When it comes to school operations, “I really feel that these are decisions that are local,” Sumpter said.

State Board President Clarence Crawford agreed that he typically favors local control for school districts. But he added, “I think when you talk about local control, there’s an equally important component, which is accountability and responsibility for decisions.”

Crawford said that he guessed that if the board members were polled to see if they loved wearing masks, no one would raise their hand. “Sometimes you have to, in effect, do what is necessary even if doing what is necessary runs counter to what you would like to do individually.”

Board member Dr. Holly Wilcox suggested using metrics, such as county vaccination rates when coming up with mask requirements. “I think it might also be worthwhile to consider community transmission rates,” she said.

Jean Halle asked her fellow board members and the superintendent whether there will be any consideration given if someone has developed some natural immunity “because they have already recovered from COVID.”

Choudhury called the concept of natural immunity a very “hot topic,” but added that he does not know if that is something I personally have seen sound research” on.

By meeting’s end the board agreed to call on the state Department of Education to come up with suggested metrics for consideration.

The current emergency mandate expires on Feb. 25, 2022. The board could vote to extend the current statewide mask mandate, allow it to expire or pass a new regulation.

The next meeting of the Maryland State Board of Education is Tuesday, Dec. 7, and the board may take up the issue for a vote then.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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