Senate President Bill Ferguson Thursday applauded a State Board of Education vote to require masks for all students and staff at all of the state’s public schools.
“Today’s vote demonstrates that President Crawford and the Board recognize the importance of safely keeping Maryland students in the classroom through proven mitigation strategies,” Ferguson said in a statement. “I would like to personally thank State Superintendent Choudhury for his leadership on this issue. His voice was a critical component in today’s decision to do what is in the best interest of students, families, teachers, and staff.”
Ferguson added: “The Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR) will work expeditiously to approve this emergency regulation.”
Earlier this week, Ferguson and a group of bipartisan senators wrote a letter to Board to request that they approve emergency masking for the state’s schools.
Thursday’s vote comes as some of the state’s students have already begun the 2021-22 academic calendar year. By next week most of the state’s schools will have reopened.
All but 5 of Maryland’s 24 school systems have mask mandates in place. Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Worcester, and Somerset counties are the outliers and do not have mask mandates in place.
The debate over mask mandates for schools has become quite contentious both in Maryland and throughout the nation and has led to parents disrupting board of education meetings and shouting insults at board members.
Several of the state’s lawmakers who represent counties without mask mandates told MarylandReporter.com prior to the vote that they strongly disagreed with the premise of the state making a uniform decision on an issue that they say should be decided by local school boards.
“I think it is interesting that we are going to throw local control out the window when it fits the progressive narrative that everybody should wear a mask,” Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-Carroll, said. “I think that that decision should firmly be vested in the authority of the local boards of education and should not be a mandate from the state.”
“I think that people cooperated last year and I think it is a bit ridiculous to try to require masks on the students at all times,” Del. Charles Otto, R-Somerset and Worcester, said. “And I do not think it is healthy in other respects. It might give a slight advantage to not transmitting the coronavirus. But I do not think there is any proof that there is a benefit from it of any magnitude.”
Otto said masks should be required in certain places around schools but not in the classroom.
“We need to get kids back to school in a comfortable environment. I think that distancing is appropriate and they should have them (masks) on the school buses and transportation. But once they are settled in the classroom, it is bad enough with school discipline to try to make other things happen such as that.”
Del. Johnny Mautz, R-Upper Shore, said schools would be better served by ensuring that sick students remain at home rather than by imposing mask mandates.
“I think it is far more important that the administration, both state and local, look at ways to protect the student body and the schools from having sick children come to school. I think that should be a paramount concern that if someone is ill that they are not going into school.”
Mautz, whose district includes Dorchester County, said schools should encourage students and staff to wear masks but that a statewide mandate simply goes too far.
“I do not think that the state should take the authority away from the counties.”
But not everyone said county school boards should be free to make their own decisions on masks.
“The decision is based on not only the science and CDC guidance, but also on recent past history that shows that masks-and to the best possible extent social distancing or physical distancing and the vaccine-a combination of the three-will help us get over the pandemic,” Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery, said. “Had we implemented these types of measures earlier, we would already be on the other end. And the Delta variant would not be a thing.”
Smith, who is chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said he is a bit puzzled as to why Gov. Larry Hogan has not issued a statewide mask mandate for either schools or businesses.
“I am not quite sure what the reasoning is. But I do think if you are focused on opening up the economy and ensuring that Maryland is open for business than you would ensure that we are safe to do so. And part one of that open for business has got to be making sure that Marylanders are safe so that we can get on the other end of this…If you want Maryland open for business then you have got to be masked-up.”