BALTIMORE — We’re less than a month away from sending the kids back to school.
Safety and quality education loom as hot button topics as we enter year two of education during the pandemic.
On Tuesday night, Baltimore County Public Schools Board Of Education held a public meeting about the superintendent’s decision to put the masks on for in person learning to start the school year.
The Baltimore Parent Student Coalition was out front of school board headquarters protesting.
WMAR spoke to several parents who say the decision to mask or not should be up to them and not the school.
They also shared why they think masks will do more harm than good. We took some of those concerns to a health expert and the school board.
Superintendent Darryl Williams made the call to keep masks on while in school and on buses.
We talked to two moms on opposite ends of the debate.
Melissa Mumaw is a stay-at-home mother of two school aged boys and two younger children.
“We just don't want to be forced to do anything that we don't want to do,” said Mumaw. “You know, we should be free to make our own decision, especially when it comes to. our health and our bodies.”
Mumaw fears that learning with masks on will dehumanize children.
“Are they going to care about your feelings because they're not seeing them? There’s too many what ifs for me. Its proven that the masks don't really work. They're not 100% effective in preventing infections and people still catching it. I feel like it should be a personal choice. “
Tori Sproat is a neuroscience student at Columbia University who recently moved to Baltimore County with her two school aged children.
“I pride myself in being a scientific communicator. So for me, I look at this through a scientific lens. Right now, our experts are saying this is the safest things to do for our kids,” Sproat said.
She said the “Swiss Cheese” model works, but it only works if everybody is on board.
“If not everyone is doing these different layers of precautions,” said Sproat. “If we’re not social distancing, if we’re not cleaning classrooms frequently. If we don’t have good ventilation and we’re not masking everyone than our efficacy goes down.”
Makeda Scott is the Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education Chair.
She said she fully supports the superintendent's decision because the best place for students is in the classroom— and they want to keep them there.
“We do not want our schools to open and then become spreaders for COVID and then have to close them down,” said Scott. “That would be I think, the worst thing that could happen.”
Scott said the school system follows the science, and they update a dashboard on the school systems website in real time with transmission data for the county and the school system.
At last check there was a moderate transmission rate on the 26 close contacts and 12 positive cases— most of which came in the elementary school age group.
READ MORE: Baltimore County COVID Dashboard
Stephanie Quaerna has been an employee at BCPS for more than 20 years.
She does speech therapy and says it was very difficult even with the clear masks the district provided.
She believes that parents should make the call on masking.
"They fog up, they get dirty very quickly, just was not the most optimal way to help kids with communication disorders, to, to, you know, whether it be social skills, or speech skills or language skills, it really impacted their ability to practice their skills and to learn new skills,” Quearna said.
Dr. David Dowdy, an Associate Professor in the Epidemiology Department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine.
He said despite what some may think, masks are safe for pretty the majority of people.
“For the very small number of people who may have some sort of skin conditions or otherwise, right, we could we can find medical exemptions or other ways around this, right,” said Dowdy. “But the number of people who are going to be harmed by masks is minimal. Right? And yes, masks do work. We know that they reduce the spread of, of this virus, they're not 100% effective, right. So it's important to also be thinking about ways to limit the amount of contact that people have, but masks are an important part of that equation.”
The first day of school is the week before Labor Day in Baltimore County this year.
It’s important to note that parents did have the option to sign up for virtual learning. In Baltimore County around 3,400 have signed up for programs so far.