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Baltimore County schools require face masks for all students, staff in fall

Baltimore County Public Schools will require all students, staff and visitors in schools to wear face masks for the fall semester.

School officials cited surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the country as the reason for maintaining strict mask guidelines during the 2021-22 school year. The current federal order for masks to be worn on school buses will continue, officials said in a release Wednesday.

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Superintendent Darryl Williams emphasized in the announcement the importance of health and safety for students, families and employees. He touted “universal masking” as an important part of the system’s multifaceted approach to mitigate the spread of the virus while keeping schools open for in-person learning.

County executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. applauded the decision and encouraged county residents who are eligible to receive a vaccine as soon as possible.

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“Protecting the health and well-being of our children and educators is a top priority, especially as we approach the beginning of a new school year,” Olszewski said in a statement. “With our youngest children not yet able to be vaccinated and with the growing spread of the delta variant, it’s critically important we take steps to minimize the spread of Covid-19.”

While operational decisions ultimately fall to the superintendent, some school board members hinted that the masking announcement has caused tension among the already divided board.

School board chairwoman Makeda Scott — whose duties include spokeswoman for the board — said in the release that she fully supports the superintendent’s decision, which she hopes will help “prioritize” in-person learning.

A few hours after the announcement, board vice chair Julie Henn posted on social media that she had not expected the school system to announce a decision on masking ahead of an Aug. 3 special board meeting. The meeting was called by Williams to update the community on universal masking plans.

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Henn said board members have had opportunities to share input on masking, but the board as a whole had not discussed nor taken a position on universal masking.

“We need to keep our schools open for safe, in-person instruction,” Henn said in the post. “But we also need to discuss what that means and what that looks like for all our learners. One size does not fit all.”

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