ANNAPOLIS, Md. — All public schools in Maryland's 24 jurisdictions must require masks to be worn inside their buildings.
The new rule goes into effect immediately, following a 10-7 vote by the State General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review.
Local superintendents will be responsible for enforcing it. Those who voted in favor of the regulation said the goal is to keep students and staff safe and in school as much as possible. Masking limits the need for close contacts to quarantine even with a positive case.
"We can all agree that in-person learning is the best environment for our students to thrive and succeed in the future. And in order to do that and keep them safe, masks are our only option in this circumstance," said committee co-chair Sen. Sarah Elfreth.
Those who voted in opposition cited the need for local control.
"To have a statewide policy is inappropriate. It doesn’t allow local superintendents to tailor the needs for their particular community," said Sen. Bob Cassilly.
On August 27, the State School Board voted in favor of universal masking but it still needed final approval.
The current mandate is set to last 180 days and could be rescinded sooner or extended depending on metrics.
As of Tuesday, only Carroll and Somerset Counties had not implemented school mask mandates.
Many of the 35 witnesses who spoke during the virtual public hearing before the vote were from Carroll County.
"This overreaching, unprecedented move by the state board violates the autonomy of all local school systems and puts into question the very purpose of having a locally elected school board," said Carroll County parent Bryan Thompson.
"Some will argue that your actions today are government overreach, but I argue they are not. They are oversight. The exact reason this legislature is in existence. You are being charged today with protecting the vulnerable in Maryland when others have turned their backs on us," said Carroll County Parent Niki Guinan.
After the vote, Marsha Herbert, President of the Board of Education of Carroll County, who also testified, issued this statement:
"While Carroll County Public Schools will comply with this mandate, I am very disappointed and disheartened by this decision. Several of our Board members and many of our Carroll County citizens presented compelling testimony as to why this is not a good decision. Today’s action definitely takes away local control and strongly affects parent choice."
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson lauded the decision while Republicans on the committee expressed disappointment.
"This measure, which the Senate called for weeks ago, comes at a time when school has already begun across the state and the protection of our children needs to remain our top priority. We know mask wearing helps slow the spread of COVID-19 and my goal has been to keep as many kids learning in school as possible," said Ferguson. "This plan could have been implemented sooner; however, I applaud the AELR Committee for moving as quickly as legally allowed to slow the spread of the deadly delta variant in schools."
Senate Republicans of the (AELR) Issue Statement Following Vote to Approve Mask Mandate in Public Schools:— Maryland Senate Republicans (@MDSenateGOP) September 14, 2021
"We are disappointed by today’s vote approving the MD Board of Education’s Emergency Regulation to institute a statewide mask mandate in every Maryland Public School.