Carroll County school board members voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a resolution calling for an end to the statewide mask mandate in public schools and authorizing legal counsel to file a petition in Carroll County Circuit Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the emergency legislation approved by the state school board in December is “contrary to Maryland law.”
Before the vote, board member Donna Sivigny called for the state school board to allow districts to set their own mask requirements.
“We cannot, in good conscience, stand by and allow the State of Maryland mask mandate to continue in Carroll County public schools any longer,” Sivigny said.
Forcing masks on children, she said, is negatively impacting students mentally, socially and academically.
“What Maryland did with locking down schools last year is a ‘stain’ that harmed our children and they’re doing it again. … We need parent choice for masking our kids,” Sivigny said.
At the conclusion of her statement, Sivigny made a motion to file a lawsuit against the State Board of Education and seek an injunction against the mask mandate for “overreach of power.”
Board member Tara Battaglia seconded the motion and a discussion ensued about the importance of local control.
“It’s time for Carroll County Public Schools to once again become a leader in the state and lift the mask mandate — it is time for us to take our county back,” school board member Marsha Herbert said.
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.”
Edmund O’Meally, the school board’s legal counsel, explained that state law gives the state school board authority over the county’s schools.
“It’s not about the effectiveness of masks,” O’Meally said. “I’m not a scientist, I don’t pretend to be a scientist.”
He suggested that the board pass a resolution that he wrote stating that “many parents in the Carroll County community continue to express serious reservations regarding the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public schools, especially as the prevailing scientific evidence demonstrates that cloth masks offer minimal protection against the spread of COVID-19, and the more effective N95 and KN95 masks are not designed for children.”
The resolution illustrates a number of scenarios in which the mask mandate could end in Carroll County. Among them, the board calls on the Maryland State Department of Education to rescind its emergency regulation regarding mandatory face coverings in public school buildings. The regulation states that school systems can lift the mask mandate if the community spread of COVID-19 is moderate or if vaccination rates are above 80% in the school or the surrounding community.
If the state board does not rescind the mandate, the resolution next urges Gov. Larry Hogan to issue an executive order providing local boards of education the authority to regulate on a local basis what they deem appropriate in their communities regarding masking.
If the Republican governor refuses to issue an executive order, which O’Meally said he believes is within Hogan’s power, then the resolution states the school board will ask the Carroll County delegation to the General Assembly to introduce legislation to give Carroll County the full authority to make decisions on face coverings in public schools. O’Meally advised the school board that the delegation could introduce the legislation, which would only affect Carroll County.
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Sen. Justin Ready, a Republican who represents legislative District 5, which covers Carroll County, sent a statement on behalf of the entire Carroll County delegation Thursday stating their support for the school board’s actions.
The delegation wrote that the state board should “call an immediate emergency meeting to rescind” what the delegation called an “unscientific mask mandate.”
“The facts are clear, cloth masks do not stop COVID-19 transmission,” states the letter, signed by Ready and Dels. Susan Krebs, Haven Shoemaker and April Rose, all Republicans who represent District 5 in Carroll County.
Ready did not respond to a phone call asking for clarity on whether the delegation would introduce the legislation, as suggested by the school board’s resolution.
Following the unanimous vote, school board President Kenneth Kiler apologized to the crowd at the school board meeting for the amount of time the board spent discussing the matter.
“This is something that affects every student, every staff member and every family and I’m sorry, but it’s important,” Kiler said.
This action follows decisions in several states to drop masks in schools. 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.