Legislative committee votes 10-7 to approve face mask order for Maryland public schools

Legislative committee votes 10-7 to approve face mask order for Maryland public schools

Tuesday, September 14, 2021
Tim Tooten, WBAL-TV 11

A state legislative committee vote held Tuesday afternoon immediately orders the wearing of face masks at all Maryland public schools.

It was a 10-7 vote in favor of a face mask mandate, which takes effect immediately.

During a meeting on Aug. 24, state school Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury urged the state Board of Education to order masking for all 24 jurisdictions.

Days later, the state board voted 11-1 in favor of universal masking in schools, but that measure required legislative approval by the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review.

The committee’s vote on Tuesday will last for 180 days and could be rescinded sooner if metrics warrant.

Schools in Carroll and Somerset counties started the school year with face masks optional. While disappointed with the panel’s vote, Carroll County Board of Education President Marsha Herbert said students in the district will be required to wear masks starting Wednesday.

“I just feel that it was not a good decision and it’s a parent choice and we definitely lost that local control, and that really disappoints me,” Herbert said. “We will abide by the mandate.”

The vote comes as Maryland added more than 1,000 new cases in the past day and the number of deaths continues to trend upwards. Since March 2020, almost 10,000 Marylanders have died from COVID-19 complications.

More people need hospital care in Maryland as 26 people were admitted to hospitals in the last day. There are more 800 people who need hospital care as of Tuesday.

The committee’s vote was along party lines.

Democratic Senate President Bill Ferguson released a statement, saying: “The Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) overwhelmingly approved a common-sense mask requirement for all Maryland school children, teachers and administrators.

“This measure, which the Senate called for weeks ago, comes at a time when school has already begun across the state and the protection of our children needs to remain our top priority.

“We know mask wearing helps slow the spread of COVID-19 and my goal has been to keep as many kids learning in school as possible.

“This plan could have been implemented sooner; however, I applaud the AELR Committee for moving as quickly as legally allowed to slow the spread of the deadly delta variant in schools.”

Democratic House Speaker Adrienne Jones tweeted: “The AELR Committee’s vote to approve the mask requirement in all public schools is data-driven and the right decision. Every student can’t get vaccinated, but they can all wear masks. We all have to do our part in eliminating the spread of COVID-19.”

Senate Republican members of the committee released a statement, saying: “We are disappointed by today’s vote approving the Maryland State Board of Education’s Emergency Regulation to institute a statewide mask mandate in every Maryland public school.

“This regulation is an overreach and political power grab by an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy. It usurps the authority of elected local school boards who made their plans to safely return children to school by listening to parents and following the latest health and safety guidelines. It is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not account for the variation in educational settings and COVID-19 metrics found throughout the state or allow for local flexibility to act and react quickly to changing metrics. It is an inappropriate overreach for the State Board of Education to reverse a local board’s decision and then require that local board to enforce a mandate or risk their funding.

“This is much more than a mask requirement. This regulation presents many compliance questions that will negatively impact the classroom and learning environment as local boards and educators struggle with enforcement.”

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