Maryland board of education to vote Thursday on statewide school mask mandate

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The Maryland state school board will vote Thursday on whether to institute a statewide mandate requiring every child and adult to be masked in schools.

Although most Central Maryland school districts have mandated all students and faculty to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, five counties, including Carroll, do not have a similar requirement in place.

The state board voted to hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday just to consider whether to pass such an emergency regulation. A motion was introduced at a Tuesday meeting by school board member Rachel L. McCusker, a Carroll County teacher, who said she thought it would help prevent quarantining children.

“I believe that having an in-school mask mandate is going to help us to meet our goal to have students stay in classrooms,” she said. “I think it is extremely important for maintaining our in-school educational process.”

At least four other board members spoke in support of McCusker’s motion to impose a mandate, but it is unclear if the majority will vote in favor of the mandate. The board has 14 members, including a student.

Under U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, schools must quarantine all students in a classroom if they are unmasked and have come in contact with a person who tests positive with COVID-19. If all students and staff are masked, the CDC says students not deemed a close contact can remain in school.

In states that have opened without mask mandates, thousands of children have been sent home to quarantine until they test negative or could come back to school safely. CDC guidelines say students must quarantine for at least seven days, and longer under most circumstances.

According to the Maryland Attorney General’s office, the state board of education can approve an emergency regulation requiring masks. The regulation must be approved by the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review, typically within 10 days, and is in effect for a limited period of time.

If the state school board supports the emergency regulation Thursday, it is unlikely it would be in effect when school starts in some counties Monday. But it could be in place soon after.

State Senate President Bill Ferguson and a majority of his colleagues sent a letter to board members Wednesday urging them to adopt masking regulations.

The senators wrote that “it is incumbent on the State Board of Education to provide leadership to protect the health and safety of school communities.” The letter noted that in other states, tens of thousands of students have had to quarantine after being exposed to the virus in the classroom.

“Continuous in-person instruction this school year is critical, and we must protect students’ ability to learn with other children in school buildings statewide throughout this school year,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by 31 Democratic senators and one Republican, Sen. Chris West of Baltimore County.

School systems that don’t require masks for all students and staff are Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties. Garrett County’s school board voted Tuesday night to require masks.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has said he will not order a school mask mandate and is leaving the decision up to schools boards.

Shortly after the senators publicized their letter to the state school board, some of Hogan’s social media accounts posted a clip of the governor in an earlier TV interview maintaining the mask decision should be made on a county-by-county basis.

“To mandate that they have to or mandate that they cannot just doesn’t make sense to me,” Hogan said in the clip. “I think it’s a basic conservative, Republican principle to let local decision-makers make decisions.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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