Starting Friday, wearing a mask indoors in Anne Arundel County school buildings will be optional.
In December, the State Board of Education established offramps from the school masking requirement, which originally was established in August to slow the spread of COVID-19.. One of those options states that “when 80 percent of the population of the county is fully vaccinated as reported by the Maryland Department of Health,” the mandate can be lifted.
Superintendent George Arlotto verified Wednesday that at least 80% of county residents eligible for vaccination have been inoculated against COVID-19, so he recommended lifting the requirement. The Anne Arundel County Board of Education unanimously voted at its Wednesday night meeting to end the mandate, making masks optional starting Friday in all school buildings.
Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said it is the system’s understanding that schools can lift the mask mandate once 80% of the eligible population is vaccinated, rather than 80% of the total population.
The published standard from the state school board was not explicit about whether 80% refers to the total population or eligible population. Lora Rakowski, a spokesperson for the Maryland State Department of Education, said Wednesday evening that 80% of the county’s eligible population being vaccinated is an acceptable standard for a county to consider unmasking.
Corine Frank, a school board member from Pasadena, made the motion to make masking optional.
“Families have only asked for us to recognize their right to make these decisions,” Frank said.
Melissa Ellis, a board member from Millersville, asked Arlotto to send a message to students and staff about not singling out or ridiculing someone over whether they are or are not wearing a mask.
“This is absolutely a choice, and there is absolutely no reason to make any assumptions about someone’s choice,” she said.
Students will still be required to wear masks on buses, as required by a federal transportation mandate.
Parents who signed up for public comment during Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting to urge members to drop the mandate thanked the representatives instead.
Crofton parent Kristen Caminiti said she supports the offramps offered by the state, but said she interprets MSDE’s rule as applying to the total population. What will happen when the youngest children become eligible, and the vaccination rate declines as the pool of eligible residents increases, she asked.
“It does not say 80% of eligible residents, so why the sudden change?” she said.
The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County released a statement Thursday saying it supports the board’s decision to make masking optional.
“Dr. Arlotto, Dr. Kalyanaraman and the entire Board of Education have consistently, under highly politicized and challenging circumstances, followed the advice of the medical and scientific community,” President Russell Leone said in a statement. “And we are certain AACPS will continue to address the needs of the most vulnerable within our school community.”
The issue of masking in schools continues to be controversial around Maryland. Last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan urged the State Board of Education to rescind its school masking policy in light of recent improving health metrics.
In a letter to the board dated Feb. 10, Hogan said it was “critical to move toward normalcy for students and families.”
On Tuesday, a group of parents and activists filed a lawsuit to challenge the school masking requirement implemented by the state school board.
“Parents throughout the state of Maryland want their rightful decision-making power returned,” Ali Rak, co-founder of The Coalition of Maryland Parents, said in a statement. “Children are the least at risk for adverse outcomes from a COVID-19 infection and yet, the last to see restrictions removed throughout this entire years long ordeal.”
Mask mandates for government buildings are being dropped by the state and county. On Tuesday, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said the mask requirement for county buildings will end Feb. 22 because of dropping COVID case rates and hospitalizations.
The Evening Sun
On Monday, Hogan said the mandate for state buildings will also end Feb. 22.
In other business related to the pandemic, Arlotto announced Wednesday the end of mandatory vaccination or testing for athletes this spring, citing the declining COVID rate and the outdoor nature of spring sports. The program will continue through the end of the winter season.