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Carroll County school board votes to hold off on mask mandate until approved by General Assembly committee

Carroll County’s school board voted Monday evening to hold off implementation of the state school mask order until after it is approved by a General Assembly committee.

After most board members discussed disagreement with a state decision and Superintendent Steve Lockard’s suggestion to implement a mask mandate on the first day of school, the board voted 4-1 during a special meeting to wait on the mask order, request an exemption from masks at the state hearing, ask for flexibility on the mask mandate based on local COVID-19 conditions, work with parents who are concerned for their children wearing masks and suggest masks only be required for buildings that house students.

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The Maryland State Board of Education voted Thursday to implement a universal mask mandate for all in the public schools. Carroll County’s school system was one of four in the state that kept masks optional, despite recommendations from the county health officer.

Although the state board passed the emergency regulation, the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review must also approve it. The committee plans to meet and vote Sept. 14 regarding the state board’s school mask rule.

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During Monday’s meeting, board member Ken Kiler called the state’s vote “government overreach at its worst.” He noted Carroll’s success with few outbreaks last school year after it was the first Maryland county to welcome back students full time.

“Unless there is a new motion here tonight, masks will be optional,” said Marsha Herbert, president of the board. “We’re not going to take this lying down.”

Board member Donna Sivigny said the state board’s vote “is nothing short of bullying a small community.” She later made the motion to wait until the masks mandate is officially approved before implementing it, but to also make requests at the hearing for an exception for Carroll.

Lockard asked the board to consider implementing masks for the first day of school Sept. 8, citing safety and fewer quarantines.

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“I would hate to have to quarantine students unnecessarily,” he said.

Board member Patricia Dorsey said she does not want to be in a power struggle with the state and would follow the rules and regulations that are laid out. She suggested board members request compromise at the state hearing, like reviewing COVID-19 rates in the community periodically in hopes of changing the mask mandate if cases are lower.

Dorsey also noted her concern with not having a virtual learning option.

At the beginning of the meeting, board member Tara Battaglia said these are difficult times but that she is still willing to do what’s right for students and staff. However, she said bullying of the board will not be tolerated, including accusations that the public will protest at member’s homes.

“That is completely and utterly inappropriate,” she said.

“Then vote how you’re supposed to vote,” a man in the audience yelled.

Herbert said the man was out of order and called for him to be removed. Police escorted him and his kids out of the room while he yelled, “We’re not going to comply.”

A group of parents and kids who are against the mask mandate gathered outside the central office building before the meeting. Some held signs that said things like “the state overreached keep mask optional” and “mask, no mask let it be our choice.”

Danielle Jones, left, and Casey Buchman of Hampstead join other Carroll County parents protesting the state's mask mandate for schools before a special meeting on the Carroll County Board of Education on Monday, Aug. 30 in Westminster.
Danielle Jones, left, and Casey Buchman of Hampstead join other Carroll County parents protesting the state's mask mandate for schools before a special meeting on the Carroll County Board of Education on Monday, Aug. 30 in Westminster. (Carroll County Times)

One of the sign holders was Casey Buchman of Hampstead. She said the masks do not help her sons who suffer from chronic migraines nor has it helped her other son when he’s receiving speech therapy.

She added that they do not want to prevent kids who want to wear a mask put one on, “but we don’t want our children forced in one when it’s not helping.”

Dorsey was the only no vote. Student board member Devanshi Mistry also opposed the motion, but student members in Carroll do not have voting rights.

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