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Maryland’s school masking mandate lifts Tuesday. Here’s what you need to know.

Maryland’s statewide masking mandate for schools lifted Tuesday, with some school systems immediately pivoting to an optional face coverings policy.

State lawmakers voted Friday to lift the mandate just as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated its COVID-19 masking guidelines.

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Here’s what you need to know about masking in Maryland schools:

Are masks required in schools?

It depends. The State Board of Education and a committee of Maryland lawmakers approved a measure last week to rescind an emergency regulation mandating masks in schools, which had been in place since August. The mandate was later updated in December to include “offramps” that would allow school systems to make masking optional if jurisdictions achieved certain health metrics.

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Starting this week, such masking decisions are now up to local school boards and administrations. Some systems around the region, including Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Frederick counties, have lifted their policies. And Catholic schools under the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s purview lifted their masking requirements earlier in last month.

Some jurisdictions like the Baltimore City Public School System continue to require masking inside school buildings. Baltimore lifted its indoor masking mandate Tuesday, marking the end of a seven-month stretch when the requirement was in place. That move does not apply to the city’s schools, where leaders will make their own decisions.

Why did Maryland’s educational leaders lift the statewide mandate?

Debates over masking students have simmered since Maryland school buildings reopened to children in 2021.

Some parents have stated that masks provide an extra layer of protection for children in the classrooms as well as for the educators and families who interact with them. Other parent groups have argued the mitigation strategy is unnecessary and have launched grassroots anti-masking campaigns across Maryland, petitioning educational leaders, organizing rallies and filing a lawsuit against the state.

Maryland’s top Republican lawmakers — including Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire and Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready — turned up the pressure in February by calling on the State Board of Education to rescind the statewide school mask mandate.

State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury told school board members last week that he believed the time had come to return the decision to local leaders, who may refer to the mandate’s “offramps” as guidance moving forward.

“We can’t mask our kids forever,” Choudhury said last week, citing the availability of vaccines, rapid testing and improving health metrics following a surge of cases associated with the omicron variant of the virus. “This is the time to do it.”

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The board ultimately agreed with the superintendent’s recommendation, voting 12-2 to rescind the mandate March 1. Lawmakers, who had final say on the matter, signed off on the mandate’s repeal in a 17-1 vote Friday.

Are masks required on school buses?

The CDC announced Friday 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.

Baltimore City is Maryland’s only public school system that relies exclusively on public transportation to help students reach school buildings. The Maryland Transit Administration requires all riders using public transit, including MARC trains, buses, light rail, metro subway and paratransit services, to wear face coverings regardless of vaccination status.

In neighboring Baltimore County, school system leaders announced Monday that the system would no longer require masks on school transportation in accordance with the CDC’s updated guidance.

What about at Maryland colleges and universities?

Many public and private institutions of higher education in Maryland have deployed an indoor masking mandate on campuses for months. The University System of Maryland announced on Valentine’s Day that its 12 member institutions were considering modifications to their COVID-19 protocols, including masking requirements.

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The University of Maryland, College Park on Monday lifted its indoor masking mandate for all faculty, staff, students and visitors on campus, with some exceptions. KN95 masks will continue to be required in all classroom settings, including shared laboratory spaces and other instructional spaces.

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“This measure remains in place out of an abundance of caution, given the increased density over a prolonged period of time in many instructional settings,” the announcement states. Instructors may continue to remove masks while teaching, provided they maintain 6 feet distance from others.

Masks should also be worn by anyone who is positive or has symptoms of COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone with the virus. Masks will continue to be required in all patient care areas, COVID-19 testing locations and public transportation, including shuttle buses, according to the announcement.

Towson University followed suit Tuesday in lifting its own indoor masking mandate. Masks are still required in all campus medical settings, officials said in the announcement.

The university system has also mandated that all students living on campus during the spring 2022 semester receive the COVID-19 vaccines and booster shot, with some exemptions.

Can children continue to wear masks in schools?

Yes, school systems that have made masking optional say families may continue to send their students to school wearing face masks. Some parents have said they will continue to do so until local transmission rates fall or vaccines become available for children under the age of 5.

Baltimore Sun reporter Emily Opilo contributed to this article.


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