The Carroll County Board of Education has taken legal action against the Maryland State Department of Education to force the state to drop its mask mandate in public schools.
During a Feb. 9 school board meeting, the board voted to authorize its legal counsel, Edmund O’Meally, to file a legal action in Carroll County Circuit Court that takes aim at the state board’s December decision to require public school students and staff statewide to wear masks in schools until the end of the 2022 school year. The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 11.
During the Feb. 9 meeting, board member Donna Sivigny said forcing children to wear masks negatively impacts students mentally, socially and academically.
Board member Tara Battaglia agreed, stating, “facial recognition is what our kids need to in order to thrive and grow — that is one of the first things you learn in social psychology. We need to send a message loud and clear … enough is enough.”
The lawsuit states that the “state board’s regulations concerning face coverings in school facilities violate the rights of petitioners Battaglia and Sivigny as parents of children attending the Carroll County Public Schools and further thrust an irreconcilable dilemma upon the County Board, its elected Board members and its superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools.”
In a letter to school board President Kenneth Kiler dated Feb. 12, the Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education stated that the school system “is recognized as a state government agency and does not have standing to sue the state.”
The letter cited several court cases to support its assertion.
O’Meally said he disagrees with the letter.
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“Even if the suit were dismissed, and I don’t think it will be, Ms. Sivigny and Ms. Battaglia would have the ability to bring the claims on their own. ... I think it’s much ado about nothing,” O’Meally said. “I feel strongly that we have very legitimate grounds to be in court and any disagreement would be for the court to decide.”
The state school board amended emergency regulations in December to create “off ramps” allowing local school systems to end mask mandates in their district if they meet one of the following criteria: at least 80% of students and staff are fully vaccinated; 80% of a county’s population is fully vaccinated; or COVID-19 transmission rates are low or moderate for 14 consecutive days in the school district’s county.
The Maryland Board of Education is scheduled to meet Tuesday to further discuss the mask requirement. The current emergency regulation is set to expire on July 1.
The Carroll County school board’s lawsuit notes issues with the off-ramp requiring at least 80% of students and staff to be fully vaccinated, stating that the following individuals are not counted toward the 80% threshold: students who are not eligible for vaccination based upon age; and [s]tudents and school staff who are exempt from vaccination because of medical contraindication or religious exemption.”
The school board’s continued push for students to be able to remove their masks at school comes as Carroll County’s COVID-19 metrics are improving and cases continue to drop. As of Friday, the county’s COVID-19 transmission levels were considered “high” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at 7.36% or about 301 cases per 100,000 population. In Carroll, 77.1% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to the CDC.
On Feb. 15 a group of parents and activists in Charles and Baltimore counties filed its own lawsuit to challenge the school masking requirement implemented by Maryland’s State Board of Education.
The Coalition of Maryland Parents, a limited liability company created this month that combined members of ReOpen Charles County and Baltimore County Parent and Student Coalition, filed the lawsuit in Somerset County Circuit Court after raising more than $31,000 for legal fees in a week. The lawsuit seeks to stop the State Board of Education from requiring public school students to wear face coverings in school.