BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Starting Monday, wearing a mask will be optional inside Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. It comes as the governor and parents push for the Maryland State Board of Education to lift its masking policy.
“I think it’s safe enough for kids to just try to get back to normal,” said Governor Larry Hogan.
Sunday on CNN, Hogan once again called for an end to the mask mandate, after sending a letter to the Board Thursday, citing dramatic improvements in COVID-19 metrics and the learning and social skill loss kids have faced.
“I don’t really have direct control over them but we’re recommending very strongly that they lift it and that’s what all of our epidemiologists and neurologists and public health doctors are suggesting,” said Hogan.
The Board will meet in just over a week to explore whether there is a continued need for the mask mandate, which now includes off-ramps for local districts and is set to expire over the summer.
However, one Johns Hopkins expert is surprised by the governor's effort and thinks there should be more emphasis on the vaccination rates for kids.
“Particularly for our 5-11 year old’s, which are very low, and for our preschool and day care age children, which we know are not yet available. I think if he were even to say we should unmask in high school, where we have seen most of those students reach 65-75% [vaccination] threshold, that would be more understandable,” said Annette Anderson, the deputy director for Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools.
Within the last week, there have also been pushes at the local level to lift the mandate.
The Carroll County Board of Education voted for a resolution calling for it to end, and parents rallied outside the State Board of Education and Howard County Board of Education, asking for similar actions.
A Baltimore City community leader, who has spoken to lots of parents on both sides of the issue, said what they all agree is parental choice.
“Each and every parent has the best interest of their child at heart and at mind and I think that decision really needs to be up to the parents on an individual basis because we on the outside don’t know if that child is in an emotional place from being in a pandemic for so long and wearing a mask,” said Pastor Shannon Wright, with Urban Engagement Initiative. “For children that are still learning their way in communication and social skills, you don’t want to keep them masked any longer than you really have to because you want to do as little damage as possible from a social interaction and just feeling comfortable with themselves perspective.”
In a statement responding to Hogan’s letter, the State Superintendent of Schools said the mask requirement helped school systems weather the omicron surge and preserve in-person learning.
He also cited the three ways local school districts can lift the mandates themselves:
- If 80 percent of a county's population is fully vaccinated.
- If a particular school has 80 percent of their staff and students fully vaccinated.
- Or if a county goes 2 weeks with moderate or low transmission rates as defined by the CDC.
The State Board of Education will meet February 22.