After the state school board implemented a universal mask mandate for public schools, some Carroll County educators and parents applauded the move, while other leaders called it an overreach of local control.
Carroll County Public Schools was one of four counties in the state, and the only one in central Maryland, that did not implement a mask mandate for the upcoming school year. Earlier this month, county health officer Ed Singer recommended mask wearing to Carroll’s board of education. However, the board disagreed.
Nathan Curtis, Carroll’s Maryland State Education Association UniServ director, said majority of educators in Carroll’s teachers’ union wanted a mask mandate to be implemented and said it’s a step to ensure the health and safety of others.
“I wish that everybody had just sucked it up and done it from the beginning because we might not be here,” he said.
While masking is uncomfortable, Curtis said it will ensure the continuity of learning. Schools must quarantine all students in a classroom if they are unmasked and have come in contact with a person who tests positive with COVID-19, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. If all students and staff are masked, the CDC says students not deemed a close contact can remain in school.
When it comes to state overreach, Curtis said he does believe local authorities should have primary control on how things are run in most circumstances, but not if those on the local level are not making the right decisions.
“I do think at times people need to recognize that a higher authority needs to step in and kind of assert itself when the locals do not,” he said.
All but one member of Maryland’s board of education voted to implement a universal mask mandate for all in the public schools on Thursday. Some Carroll school board members called it an overreach.
Marsha Herbert, president of Carroll’s board, said they were disappointed by the state’s action and said the masking is best decided by local school systems.
“At this point we are reviewing the state board’s proposed regulation and we will decide what, if any, action we will pursue at a later date,” she said in a voice message.
Fellow member Tara Battaglia said overriding local authority could set a precedent.
“No matter how someone may feel regarding masks or vaccines, local authority should be making their own decisions,” she added. “Carroll County is not Baltimore city. Carroll County is not Prince George’s County. Our numbers can be different from other counties.
“Unfortunately, I think this sets a precedent that any local government could be losing their authority to do what is best for their residents,” she said
School superintendent Steven A. Lockard did not respond to requests for comment on the state action. However, CCPS’s communications office stated: “We are in the process of reviewing the regulation from the Maryland State Board of Education. A communication will be coming out shortly.”
Although the state approved the emergency regulation to require masks, it must also be approved by the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review, typically within 10 days.
Lawmakers who head up the committee said they’d like to act sooner, to get the mask rule on the books as soon as students and teachers are back in class.
“We are prepared to hold a hearing immediately to approve masks in every school in Maryland starting on Monday,” Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat and co-chair of the committee, said in a statement. “However, Maryland law requires a ten day delay at a time when your kids cannot wait.”
Rosenberg said in an interview he’s hopeful the majority will support adopting the masking mandate on an emergency basis.
The General Assembly committee plans to hold a meeting and vote on Sept. 14 regarding the state board’s school mask rule. With the secondary approval after Carroll’s first day of school on Sept. 8, it is unclear whether CCPS will enforce the mandate by the first day of school.
The state school board requested the emergency status to begin Aug. 30 and expire Feb. 25.
Del. Haven Shoemaker, a Republican who represents District 5, is on that committee and is requesting the panel have a hearing before there is a vote.
He said it’s important to have a hearing because the state board’s vote has “tremendous precedential value in terms of undermining the notion of local control of educational decision-making … With the precedent that the state board set [Thursday], the door will open for them to undermine local authority anytime they like. That’s just plain wrong.”
A few Carroll County parents tried taking matters into their own hands prior to the state board’s decision and after Carroll’s board chose not to implement a mask mandate.
“The Maryland State Board of Education received more than 20 appeals requesting an overturn of Carroll County School Board’s decision for optional masking in schools,” Lora Rakowski, MSDE’s communication director, said in an email on Tuesday.
At the time, she said the appeals were being processed by the state board.
One of those parents who sent an appeal was Meagan Simonsen of Hampstead. She said not having a virtual learning option and the fact that students under age 12 cannot be vaccinated were also reasons masking was a good idea.
Simonsen called Carroll’s board of education decision to ignore recommended scientifically based safety procedures as ignorant and short sighted.
“It’s really more about political stance than it is about scientifically backed education policy,” she said about the board.
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Baltimore Sun reporter Pam Wood contributed reporting to this article.