(The Center Square) – The Maryland State Board of Education voted Thursday to require masks for students and employees in all of the state’s public schools systems, attributing the increase to a rise in COVID-19 cases linked to the more contagious delta variant.
Only five jurisdictions did not have a mask mandate before the vote – Carroll, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties.
The Carroll County Board of Education agreed earlier this week to make masks optional for students. Masks were also optional for schools in Somerset and Worcester counties. The Dorchester Board of Education agreed to begin the year with no mask mandate.
Board member and former state senator Gail Bates was the only member to vote against the measure, saying the issue should be decided by local school boards.
“This is a one-size-fits-all and they (the number of cases) seem to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” Bates said during the meeting. “I would just prefer to keep the flexibility within the jurisdictions to do what’s best for the students. But I want the kids back in school.”
Brig. Gen. Warner Sumpter of the Maryland Army National Guard said the decision was a hard one.
“But to put our kids at risk for another year, without education, I just can’t go with,” he said.
A majority of the Maryland Senate called on the State Board of Education to promulgate emergency regulations to institute a statewide masking policy for schools and we applaud them for doing so this afternoon. Today’s vote demonstrates that President C… https://t.co/Bl0QJnVbBG pic.twitter.com/qVCXP8dbdX— Bill Ferguson (@SenBillFerg) August 26, 2021
Board Chairman Clarence Crawford said it was the state school board’s responsibility to do everything they possibly could to minimize disruptions.
“I’m hesitant to step into that space, and I agree with Sen. Bates that the local jurisdictions have the authority, but some have chosen not to,” Crawford said.
Senate President Bill Ferguson praised the vote in a statement.
“Today’s vote demonstrates that President Crawford and the Board recognize the importance of safely keeping Maryland students in the classroom through proven mitigation strategies,” Ferguson said. “I would like to personally thank State Superintendent Choudhury for his leadership on this issue. His voice was a critical component in today’s decision to do what is in the best interest of students, families, teachers and staff.”
The action will need the approval of the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, which Ferguson said “will work expeditiously to approve this emergency regulation.”
All of Maryland’s counties are considered at high or very high risk for COVID-19 cases. The state reported an additional 1,244 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 491,174 since the beginning of the pandemic.