The Baltimore City school system will no longer require face masks in schools beginning March 14.
City school officials say masking for central office staff and visitors will become optional a week earlier, on Monday. The Baltimore City board of education has signaled its support for the measure.
“The Board’s top priority is to support the ability of our families to choose what is best for their students. It is a responsibility we take seriously,” board chair Johnette Richardson said in a news release. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, City Schools has followed the science and best health guidance. The Board remains fully confident in the system’s ability to keep our students and staff safe.
The system is the latest jurisdiction to shift to an optional masking policy, with other local school systems, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard county schools, making the switch to optional masking this week.
Still, the announcement came as a surprise to some city school educators, who posted on social media that they learned of the policy shift from local media coverage.
“We are frustrated that the district continues to inform the media of their policy changes before its own employees who are directly impacted by their decisions,” said Cristina Duncan Evans, a representative of the city’s teachers union. “We have many questions about the implementation of lifting the mask mandate as members consistently report safety gaps in testing, contact tracing, and ventilation measures.”
The union is urging the school system to improve communication with staff and families, and to continue providing opportunities to increase student vaccination rates, Duncan Evans said.
Baltimore City’s public students as a whole are not required to report their COVID-19 vaccination status to the school system, although high school athletes were required to be immunized ahead of the winter and spring sports seasons. The vaccine also was required for all system employees, except those who have an approved exemption.
“We ask that the district be proactive, and set clear, evidence-based guidelines for if and when masks would become mandatory again,” she said.
The Evening Sun
The city is among the last in the region to pivot to optional masking following the State Board of Education’s decision last week to rescind a statewide masking mandate in schools on the recommendation of the State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury. The decision was approved by state lawmakers Feb. 25 and went into effect Tuesday.
Baltimore City’s community transmission rate is categorized as “low,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While masks generally will be optional, the new policy requires some people to continue masking for 10 days after testing positive for or being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
The city will continue to conduct weekly COVID-19 testing and offer masks to students and employees upon request.
City schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the system and community “have stepped forward in a huge way to reduce the spread of the pandemic.”
The data and guidance from the CDC are clear and unmistakable evidence,” she said. “We have followed the advice of health experts, including the Baltimore City Health Department, implemented the proper precautions, and stayed vigilant through the different surges.”
The federal health agency updated its own COVID-19 guidance Feb. 25, stating that masks would no longer be federally mandated on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early care and other child care programs.
Families, advocates, educators and lawmakers have debated for months whether masks should continue to be required in schools. Until last week, the CDC recommended universal masking in schools as a COVID-19 mitigation protocol.