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Board of Ed votes for MSDE to look at off ramps for school mask mandate

Posted at 5:04 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-01 17:39:46-05

BALTIMORE — The statewide mask mandate for schools is staying at least for now.

Wednesday, the State Board of Education voted to task the Department of Education with coming up with a new regulation that includes off ramps for school districts to remove the mandate.

The board and department are trying to balance restoring local control with keeping schools open and safe.

“We’re never going to get back to normal if we don’t keep our schools open,” said Mohammed Choudhury, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools

Choudhury said a crucial part of keeping kids in school has been the statewide mask mandate.

It was put in place in mid-September and MSDE said it has helped minimize quarantines and ensure a safe learning environment.

However, some school boards and parents have asked that local control be restored, so boards can make their own decisions about the mandate.

“I think when you talk about local control there’s also an equally important component which is accountability and responsibility for decisions,” said Clarence Crawford, president of the State Board of Education

During a virtual board meeting Wednesday, Choudhury said now is the time to start thinking about off ramps.

“We can’t mask our children forever. However, we do know masking plays a role in keeping communities safe,” said Choudhury.

The board voted 11-2 for MSDE to present an emergency regulation with off ramps for school districts to end the mandate.

It could include looking at positivity or transmission rates, hospitalizations, or community vaccination rates.

“The vaccine is the most powerful tool in fighting the virus and keeping our communities safe and so we believe that if an off ramp was developed, it should include vaccination rates in some way,” said Choudhury.

Several board members spoke against an off ramp that uses only child vaccine rates.

“I don’t want us necessarily to be seen as going through a back door to mandate vaccines for children and so using other types of criteria I think could be considered,” said board member Dr. Joan Mele-McCarthy.

MSDE will now do research and submit off ramp ideas to the board for them to vote on, though they did not discuss a timeline for when that would happen.

The current mandate is set to expire at the end of February.