Citing improved COVID-19 health metrics and high vaccination rates, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) asked the State Board of Education on Thursday to rescind its mask requirements in public school buildings.
The call to end mask mandates in schools comes after the decline of the coronavirus omicron variant. The state’s 7-day positivity rate is 5.12% with 986 people hospitalized due to the coronavirus. In Maryland, 43% of children ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Feb. 2, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“It is critical to move toward normalcy for students and families by rescinding the school masking policy,” Hogan wrote in a letter to the State Board of Education on Thursday. “…We must all learn to live with this virus, not in fear of it.”
In December, the State Board of Education approved a new emergency regulation that created “off-ramps” to the mask mandate that had been in place since the beginning of the school year. The State Board of Education has consistently said their goal is to keep as many students learning in-person as possible.
Since lawmakers approved this regulation last month, local school systems can lift masking rules under any of three conditions set by the emergency regulation: if 80% of staff and students are fully vaccinated, if 80% of the full county population is fully vaccinated or if a county’s COVID-19 transmission rates are low or moderate for 14 consecutive days, as reported by the CDC.
The Maryland State Board of Education has received the governor’s letter and is in the process of responding, said Lora Rakowski, spokesperson for MSDE.
In a statement earlier this week, Rakowski said the board will continue its practice of reviewing current COVID-19 metrics to assess the need for continuing the regulation.
“The Maryland State Board of Education is watching with optimism as Covid-19 metrics improve in the State because our goal has been and continues to be to provide safe in person instruction for our children and staff with minimal disruptions,” she wrote in an email. “The emergency regulation does provide research-based off-ramps for local school systems and schools based on vaccination and transmission rates.”
Hogan’s letter comes after he said at a press conference earlier this week that his office planned to ask the State Board of Education to consider changes to their masking regulations at their next meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 22.
When asked at the press conference if he plans to issue an executive order making mask-wearing optional in public schools — an action taken by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) of Virginia — Hogan said he does not. He stressed that local school boards have the authority to make their own decisions.
The legislative presiding officers said they support the State Board of Education’s current masking regulation, during a press conference on Thursday.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) highlighted that the General Assembly’s Joint Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee, which is tasked with reviewing state agency regulations, voted to approve the State Board of Education’s emergency regulation last month.
“I think it was a thoughtful series of regulations that were put forward, and the General Assembly approved those [regulations] and I suspect they will remain in place until we see something else from the board,” Ferguson said.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) said that she trusts the State Department of Education and local school systems to make decisions based on public health data to keep students and staff safe.
Hogan’s letter also comes after Republican members of the House of Delegates urged State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury and the State Board of Education earlier this week to “immediately rescind” the mask mandate in public schools.
At least four states — New Jersey, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware — plan to lift its statewide mask mandates for schools within the next month. An Arlington judge recently issued an order temporarily blocking Youngkin’s executive order, which seven school boards had sued to stop.