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Carroll County Board of Education, delegation ask state to lift in-school mask mandate

Members of Carroll County Board of Education and the District 5 state delegation wrote letters to the state education department requesting the in-school mask mandate be lifted.

Sen. Justin Ready, a Republican who represents Carroll’s District 5, posted on his Facebook page on Friday that school board members Marsha Herbert and Ken Kiler wrote to the Maryland State Department of Education asking them to allow CCPS students and staff have the option to wear masks indoors. And he and his fellow Carroll legislators want to support them.

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“Putting aside the low likelihood of students, particularly elementary and middle school-aged children, to contract COVID, the low positivity rate in Carroll County creates a strong argument for the lifting of the requirement,” the letter, addressed to Karen Salmon, superintendent of schools, and Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary of Maryland Department of Health, stated. “In addition, every staff member in the school system has had the opportunity to receive the vaccine. Now, teenagers are able to get their vaccine as well.”

The letter also stated not wearing masks will contribute to student comfort and a more pleasant learning environment.

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The mask order in Maryland was officially lifted May 15 for all residents, even for those without vaccines. However, masks are required for public transit, hospitals and schools. Unvaccinated residents were strongly encouraged to wear masks, but it will not be enforced.

Ken Kiler, the school board vice president, said he and Herbert, the board president, sent separate letters to MSDE requesting them to make masks an option rather than a mandate. He said he’s aware that not all kids are vaccinated but noted how low case numbers are and how kids have not suffered as severely because of the virus compared with the older population.

“We have 80% of kids in school four days a week and a large percentage of those families would prefer masks to be optional,” he said.

Kiler said he hopes the request is granted as soon as possible. Although there are only two weeks of school left in the year, they also have summer recovery for the thousands of kids who suffered academically due to the pandemic. And the sooner MSDE responds, the sooner they can plan for the summer.

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Ready’s letter was signed by Republican District 5 delegates Susan Krebs, April Rose and Haven Shoemaker. The four also sent a letter in December, when students were still virtual, suggesting MSDE set a timetable to return students to in-person learning.

Ready said they sent the mask letter to be supportive and because they have heard from constituents requesting the same thing. He said he is not “an anti-masker” but the risk of not wearing a mask nowadays is “miniscule.” He said he also wants to make sure the guidance is clear for next school year and for summer instruction.

Carroll’s Board of Education voted recently to lift the outdoor mask order at the public schools. Students and staff now have the option to remove masks while outside. At the time, Ed Singer, the county health officer, recommended to hold off on the vote out of concern for the young people who cannot yet be vaccinated playing closely together during recess.

He expressed similar concerns regarding the BOE/delegation request regarding masks.

“As I recommended to the Board of Education when I presented our COVID-19 data on May 12th, I believe that students and teachers should continue to wear masks for the rest of this school year,” he said in an email. “Most students are not yet vaccinated and the CDC recommends that people who are not vaccinated wear masks around people who aren’t in their household.”

Singer did, however, note that local case rates are falling. If case rates and in-school transmission stays low, students may not need to wear masks in the fall, he added. But it will depend on the state and federal guidance.

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