(Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash)

By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

The Maryland State Board of Education voted this week to adopt emergency regulations requiring all public school students and teachers to wear masks or face coverings while in school. 

School board members decided it was time to step away from Governor Larry Hogan’s current laissez faire approach to letting individual school districts decide about masks and other COVID-19 mitigation measures. 

“As a board we have said so many times that our goal is to get kids back to in-person instruction,” said Lori Morrow, Prince George’s County State Board member. 

Morrow and other board members felt that the mask mandate would prevent widespread transmission of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 and reduce the kinds of outbreaks that have caused school shutdowns and mass student quarantines that have happened in other states that allowed students to return to the classroom without masks.  

Student board member, Kevin Bokoum, “A mask is simply, barely not even a burden. Anything is better than having to go back online,” Bokoum added. 

Only Gail Bates, State Board member from Howard County voted against the emergency regulation. 

“I truly want our students back in school,” Bates said. “I prefer to keep the flexibility with the local jurisdiction to do what’s best for her students,” Bates added speaking in favor of local school boards deciding what to do about mitigation measures against Covid-19. 

The State Board passed a unanimous resolution in April requiring all schools to return to in-person instruction in Fall 2021. New State School Board Superintendent Mohammed Choudrey, is in favor of masking, and called an emergency meeting for the board to vote on the measure after conferring with Maryland Attorney General’s office. 

The Board also received a letter this week from State Senate President Bill Ferguson and 32 of Maryland’s 47 State Senators pressing the board to take action.  

“We urge the State Board of Education to promulgate a temporary emergency regulation mandating all children, faculty and staff wear masks in every Maryland elementary and secondary school,” the letter said. 

 “We have a commitment to retain our students and to do that in a way that our students would have an opportunity to learn and recover from this terrible pandemic,” said State Board of Education president Clarence Crawford (Prince Georges County) before calling for a vote on the measure. 

The emergency regulation passed by the State Board must be approved by the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review. Ferguson has vowed to move the process quickly. The new regulation would take effect 10 days after it is received by the committee and is operational for 180 days. 

Currently in Maryland, five K-12 public school systems do not have a school mask mandate: Carroll, Cecil, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester Counties. 

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