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MD Board of Education Votes For In-School Masking

The State Board of Education discussing the mask mandate Thursday. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR
The State Board of Education discussing the mask mandate Thursday. Credit: Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR

The Maryland State Board of Education voted for a statewide in-school masking mandate Thursday afternoon as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

The decision comes just days before many school systems are to reopen Aug. 30.

For the mandate to be finalized, the state board’s decision would need approval from the state’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR). House Speaker Adrienne Jones and State Senate President Bill Ferguson both said Thursday they expect the committee to approve the board’s decision.

The decision could take 10 days to go into effect. Once finalized, the mandate would be in effect for up to 180 days.

State Board President Clarence Crawford said that preferably, local school systems would have taken the initiative themselves. But five, including Caroll and Somerset Counties, have not yet done so.

“I don't come to this decision lightly,” Crawford said.

He and the vast majority of board members said masking was critical for keeping children safe in schools.

Only Gail Bates, a former state senator from Howard County voted no, saying local school boards should be able to decide for themselves according to their transmission rates.

“This is a one size fits all,” Bates said. “And when I look at the numbers, they seem to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”

According to the CDC, all Maryland jurisdictions have substantial to high transmission rates, as of Friday.

Crawford told WYPR that while some schools may be without a mandate for a few days, the decision would still minimize the spread of the virus.

“If it provides the protection for 180 days, I think we’re still much better off,” Crawford said.

Speaker Jones applauded the state board’s vote in a statement and called on Gov. Larry Hogan to immediately authorize the mandate.

“Governor Hogan has the legal authority right now to protect every Maryland child who starts school on Monday and I urge him to use his power immediately to suspend the ten day wait period,” Jones wrote. “Our children can’t wait.”

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.