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Maryland lawmakers vote on school mask rule planned for after classes start

A panel of Maryland lawmakers won’t be able meet to give their OK to an emergency rule requiring masks be worn inside public school buildings until after in-person classes begin for the year.

The General Assembly’s Joint Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, which must give its blessing to the Maryland State Board of Education’s action on masks, plans to hold a hearing and vote on Sept. 14.

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That’s 10 business days after the committee received the proposed rule from the state school board, representing the soonest the committee can vote by law. Two government holidays — Labor Day on Sept. 6 and Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 7 — have pushed the vote well into the new school year. Some school districts start classes as early as Monday, while others don’t go back until Sept. 8.

Under state law, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan could act to allow the legislative committee to act sooner; his office has not responded to questions about whether he’ll do so.

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Lawmakers who head up the committee said they’d like to act sooner to get the mask rule on the books as soon as students and teachers are back in class.

“We are prepared to hold a hearing immediately to approve masks in every school in Maryland starting on Monday,” said Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat and co-chair of the committee, in a statement. “However, Maryland law requires a ten day delay at a time when your kids cannot wait.”

Sen. Sarah Elfreth, an Anne Arundel County Democrat and the other committee co-chair, said in a statement that she would “implore” Hogan to waive the 10-day waiting period.

“We have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of every child, regardless of the county they live in,” she said in the statement.

However, Carroll County Republican Del. Haven Shoemaker, a member of the committee, is requesting a hearing before there is a vote. Carroll County is one of four school districts that doesn’t require masks, after the school board voted Aug. 11 to keep masks optional.

The state school board stepped in Thursday, voting to approve an emergency regulation requiring masks in school buildings statewide for 180 days.

“With the precedent that the state board set last night, the door will open for them to undermine local authority anytime they like,” Shoemaker said. “That’s just plain wrong.”

Hogan previously said he thought the decision on masks was best left up to local school boards, rather than setting a statewide rule. But after the vote, his spokeswoman issued a statement acknowledging the state board’s decision was legal and “in line with current state and federal health guidance.”

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have both said they favor approving the mask requirement.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Kristen Griffith contributed to this article.

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