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Here’s what you need to know about the Maryland mask mandate for public schools

Maryland is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases, prompting the state’s board of education last week to pass a universal mask mandate for public schools.

The regulation came just days before many students across the state are preparing to return to school buildings for in-person classes — some for the first time in more than a year.

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Children under the age of 12 are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the delta variant of the virus is more contagious than previous variants.

Here’s what you need to know about the state’s universal school mask mandate.

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Who must follow the masking mandate?

The regulation applies to county boards of education and public schools in Maryland. It requires public school systems to implement policies and procedures to ensure face coverings are worn in all school facilities, including buses.

The regulation does not prevent school systems from establishing policies or procedures that go further than the rules set forth in the regulation.

While private schools and child care centers are not included in the mandate, the Maryland State Board of Education is strongly recommending that such institutions adopt a universal masking policy for children and employees.

In February, the CDC issued an order requiring face masks to be worn by all people while on public transportation. That order applies to passengers and drivers on school buses, including buses operated by both public and private school systems.

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Who is exempt from the school mask mandate?

While the regulation issues a blanket mask mandate in public school facilities, state officials outlined a list of scenarios in which students and employees can remove their mask.

Children under age 2 are exempt from the mandate. And any person who is actively eating, drinking, exercising or swimming in a pool can go without a mask. Face coverings can also be removed if they get in the way of playing a musical instrument. Students are not required to wear a mask during authorized sleep time.

The regulation exempts any person with a disability that specifically prevents her or him from wearing a face mask. Individuals with a physical or mental impairment that prevents them from safely wearing a mask, as documented by a physician, are also exempt.

The regulation goes on to say that individuals interacting with a person who is hearing impaired can remove face coverings when the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

Individuals may be exempt if wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety or job duty as determined by relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations.

Any person who is receiving services to the face, mouth or head or is required to temporarily remove the face covering to confirm their identity for security purposes is exempt.

When will the mask mandate be in place?

The Maryland Board of Education approved the emergency regulation Thursday; it bypasses the normal public notice and comment period. A special legislative committee is scheduled to hold a hearing and vote on the regulation Sept. 14 — so technically, school systems like Carroll County, which hadn’t previously planned a mask mandate, could start the school year without requiring masks.

If approved, the rule remains in effect for 180 days. The board could also decide to withdraw the regulation before it expires. State education superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said he would provide monthly coronavirus updates to the board.

Who is in charge of enforcing a mask mandate?

While school systems and boards of education are charged with implementing the mask mandate, the state superintendent of schools is also authorized to enforce the mandate, according to the regulation.

What kind of mask is required in schools?

The regulation defines “face covering” to mean a material that covers the nose and mouth to prevent respiratory droplets from being expelled into the air. The mask can be manufactured or homemade, but should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.

The face coverings must be secured to the head, including with ties or ear loops that allow the mask to fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, the regulation states.

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