As other states walk back school mask mandates, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday he lacked the authority to challenge the state Board of Education’s policy requiring face coverings in schools.
Here’s what you need to know about masking requirements in Maryland public schools.
What are the rules?
Generally, anyone in a public school in Maryland must be wearing a mask. The Maryland State Board of Education passed an emergency regulation instituting the mandate in August, and state lawmakers signed off on it in September.
But the state Board of Education approved an emergency regulation in December that creates an “off ramp” for school systems to allow students to go without masks. Mandates may be lifted if a county’s community spread of COVID-19 is moderate or if vaccination rates are above 80% in the school or the surrounding community. Community transmission is high in every Maryland county, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State lawmakers on the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review approved the updated regulation on Jan. 5.
What are other states doing?
The Democratic governors of Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon announced in recent days they would end school mask mandates sometime in March. Connecticut plans to end its school mandate by the end of February. All four states will allow local school districts to maintain mandates if they choose.
And in Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order last month making masks optional in schools. A judge temporarily halted the order after several school boards filed challenges.
What did Hogan say about the masking regulations?
Hogan didn’t take a position on students wearing masks last August, saying he would leave it up to local leaders.
The Republican governor said Tuesday that he would ask the Maryland Board of Education to consider changes to the school masking regulation at its meeting later this month. He did not elaborate on what changes he would like to see.
“I don’t see us taking the kind of action that Gov. Youngkin did,” Hogan said at a news conference Tuesday. “I don’t believe that we have the authority to demand that school boards do what I say. Voters elected them. But we’re going to certainly weigh in when we think that they’re being too aggressive.”
What did the State Board of Education say?
In response to the governor’s statement, the Maryland State Board of Education said members are “watching with optimism as Covid-19 metrics improve in the State because our goal has been and continues to be to provide safe in person instruction for our children and staff with minimal disruptions.”
The board reviews COVID-19 metrics at its meetings each month in order to assess the need for such regulations, according to the statement.
“Our commitment has not changed,” the board said in the statement. “The emergency regulation does provide research-based off-ramps for local school systems and schools based on vaccination and transmission rates.”
The board said it will continue to rely on science, research and public health experts, including the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health.
“We look forward to the day when this dark COVID cloud has been mitigated,” the board said. “We will continue to listen and work with our State and local partners in continuing this work.
Is anyone else pushing back against school masking mandates?
Masking has become a polarizing issue in many counties and local school systems. Some groups have organized and raised money around the issue or considered legal action.
And Maryland House Republicans sent a letter Tuesday to the state superintendent of schools and the state Board of Education calling for an end to the masking mandate in schools.
They argued that cloth masks were ineffective in preventing the spread of COVID-19; that KN95 and N95 masks have not been properly tested in children; and that children’s emotional and cognitive development was at risk from the masks.
“The damage that covering faces does to the development of children is something that we will not fully grasp for many years to come,” the letter read. “However, there are early indications that masking negatively impacts cognitive development as well as emotional wellbeing — neither of which should be sacrificed for a mitigation measure that provides no true health benefit for those children.”
The letter goes on to call for an end to the face coverings in public schools by eliminating the “off ramps” put in the order.
What do the experts say?
The CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students ages 2 years and older as well as employees and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
Some public health officials have said that they supported mandates in schools to ensure a high compliance rate with the safety measure. But more recently many have said they also support ending the mandates when conditions improved.
Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a Johns Hopkins pulmonologist who treats COVID-19 patients, said he could support lifting mandates if conditions such as low community transmission were met and if schools had the ability to change course if there are outbreaks.
“I don’t mind as long as the schools have the flexibility to react in real time, if there is say a super spreading event,” he said. “Mandates never take the place of active engagement and apply in real time.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Meredith Cohn and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.