State Board of Education to Vote on In-School Masking Mandate

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said that all school systems should begin the year with masks. Screenshot by Hannah Gaskill.

The Maryland State Board of Education will hold a meeting Thursday afternoon to determine if students will be required to wear masks during the 2021-2022 academic year as the delta variant continues to drive the state’s COVID-19 case and hospitalization rates higher.

​​“I believe that having an in-school mask mandate is going to help us to meet our goal of having students stay in classrooms and minimize the disruption that will be caused by quarantines,” said Rachel McCusker, the teacher representative of the Maryland State Board of Education, at the end of a marathon meeting held Tuesday.

The board voted unanimously to meet Thursday at 3 p.m. to discuss the matter further.

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudury said that he was looking to see if he had legal backing to deny school systems’ COVID-19 plans if they follow all of the State Department of Education and Department of Health recommendations except for universal masking.

“I have been very clear, all school systems should start the school year with masking,” Choudury said early during the eight-hour meeting Tuesday.

Thus far, each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions has been left to devise its own reopening plan for students and staff members, leaving many confused about their system’s stance.

To assuage public concern, Monday morning Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) tweeted a map created by the Department of Legislative Services detailing masking and vaccine mandates by school district.

According to the map, which was last updated Aug. 18, 14 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions plan to require students to wear masks.

“We want to keep our kids in class and keep our schools open,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said in support of County Superintendent George Arlotto’s decision to mandate that students and teachers mask up. “That’s the reason that we have the mask requirement.”

Robert Mosier, chief communications officer for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said discussions regarding vaccine requirements for teachers are underway. Pittman issued a vaccine mandate for county employees earlier this month.

According to Anne Arundel Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the county has 55 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 at Anne Arundel Medical Center and University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. He also reported that six people died of COVID-19-related causes in Anne Arundel County in the past week — “the most deaths we’ve had in three months.”

Asked what it would take for him to institute a county-wide mask mandate, Pittman said that he would need to reinstate a local state of emergency, but he doesn’t have enough support from the County Council to do so.

“We don’t have the authorization,” Pittman said. “We had it under the governor’s emergency order and we had it under the county’s emergency declaration … but that we no longer have.”

Pittman said that, to reinstate the county’s state of emergency, five of seven Anne Arundel County councilmembers would have to support it. He said that three county council members “have opposed every mandate that we’ve put into effect.”

“So we don’t believe that we have the votes on the council to do that,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) declared a state of emergency there Tuesday morning in an effort to help the county request and procure aid and resources from the state and federal government.

Per a Tuesday news release from Olszewski’s office, the Baltimore County Council will hold a voting session next week to determine if the county should remain under the state of emergency beyond August.

“While we’ve made undeniable progress in our fight against this deadly virus, the rapid emergence of the Delta variant has made it clear that we need access to every tool in our toolbox to be able to respond to it,” Olszewski said in a statement. “We remain committed to doing whatever is necessary to keep our residents as safe as possible and to ensure that when our children go back to school next week they can remain where they belong: inside the classroom.”

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