ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Maryland State Board of Education on Tuesday voted 12-2 to lift the statewide mask mandate in schools effective March 1.
There is still one more hurdle until the new measure can take full effect — it must now receive final approval from the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review.
Before the vote the State Schools Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said the mask mandate did what it needed to do, and now is the time for local school boards to take back control of masking decisions.
He cited Maryland's COVID case rate, which is lowest in the country and the wide availability of vaccines.
"We had a very smart response. We have very smart off ramps. Let them decide," said Choudhury.
The board also heard from parents and educators, most who spoke against the mandate.
"You are teaching our children to fear each other, to fear their teachers, to fear the air they breathe," said one parent.
The Maryland State Education Association president had a different point of view and asked for more transition time to offer expanded virtual schooling options and to address bullying.
"There are students and educators currently able to take part in in person instruction because of the mask mandate," said Cheryl Bost, MSEA President.
During the meeting, dozens of people gathered outside the building to protest the mandate, calling the vote a step in the right direction, but one that still falls short.
“It was wishy washy to me. I wish it was a stronger message,” said Baltimore County mom Amy Adams. “Our children have been under the most restrictions during this pandemic of any other group of people and they are at the lowest risk for this virus. I don’t understand why they are still being restricted.”
Others are worried it won’t make a difference for some counties. Montgomery, Howard and Frederick counties already meet off ramp requirements but haven’t lifted the mandate.
"Some counties have an agenda and their agenda seems to be forced vaccine mandates," said Anne Arundel County mom Meghan Buckley Kostkowski. "I want people to have choice and I want doctor patient relationship protected and I feel like these mandates undermine all of that."
Back in December the State Board provided three pathways through which a local school system could have independently lifted the mandate.
Anne Arundel County was the only school system who met the criteria who voted to make masks optional. Meanwhile, Carroll County's Board had discussed filing legal action against the state board if they didn't rescind the mask mandate. During a February 8 meeting, their health department declared 80 percent of eligible county residents fully vaccinated and 14 consecutive days of moderate or low transmission rates.
The statewide mandate itself was supposed to be in place until the summer.
However recently, the board had been receiving push back from Governor Larry Hogan and some school systems who were ready to lift the mandates.
Shortly after the board's vote, Hogan took to Twitter to applaud their decision.
I want to thank the State Board of Education for heeding our call to rescind its school mask policy. My full statement: pic.twitter.com/P0NrEMXgli— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) February 22, 2022
Maryland State House Minority Leader Jason Buckel and House Minority Whip Haven Shoemaker also released a statement in support.
"Our members were the first state officials to join with parents in encouraging the Maryland’s State School Board to rescind its statewide mask mandate in public schools, and we applaud today’s action. It’s past time parental rights were restored. As we all move forward, it is imperative that families make their own decisions on what is best when it comes to masking, education and how they handle COVID-19 for the long term."