The Maryland State Board of Education voted Tuesday to remove its statewide mask mandate for K-12 students and let local school districts determine their own masking policies starting March 1. A legislative committee will make a final decision.
The board approved the measure in a 12-2 vote after State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said improvements in statewide data on COVID-19 support a change to his recommendation on masks.
“I think it is the right time to return [the decision] back to local control, so I would recommended to you to consider sending it back to the locals,” he said.
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The president of the Maryland State Education Association, Cheryl Bost, asked the board to hold off on lifting its mandate and continue to use its current plan to fade masks out based on data.
“There are students and educators currently able to take part in in-person instruction because of the mask mandate,” she said.
Gov. Larry Hogan thanked the school board, saying in a statement that their vote “aligns with the data and the science, the recommendation of the State Superintendent of Schools, and the guidance of medical professionals across the country.”
“I also want to express my sincere appreciation to all the parents who have spoken out in recent weeks. At a time when Maryland has the lowest COVID-19 metrics in the country, this is a major step for normalcy and the well-being of our students,” Hogan said.
Board of Education Chair Clarence Crawford said he hopes local districts will behave responsibly moving forward.
The Maryland General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review has the final say on the matter and are expected to meet in the weeks to come.
Under the current policy, local school systems can decide to end the mask requirement if the spread of COVID-19 is moderate or low for 14 days in a row or if vaccination rates are higher than 80% in the school or community.
The policy was adopted by the state board in December and enacted by the AELR committee early this year.
March 1 already marks the start of new mask policies in the D.C. area. In Virginia, families will be able to opt out of mask mandates imposed by local school boards starting then, in line with a bill signed into law this month by new Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.