Maryland legislative panel votes to require masks in K-12

September 14, 2021 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A panel of Maryland lawmakers approved an emergency measure on Tuesday to require masks in K-12 schools to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The 10-7 vote by the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review puts the emergency regulation into effect for up to 180 days. The Maryland State Board of Education approved the regulation last month on an 11-1 vote.

Only two of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, Carroll and Somerset counties, had not already required students to wear masks while attending school.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended universal mask-wearing for teachers and students inside school buildings this fall, citing the rapid spread of the delta variant.

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said the mask requirement will increase safety and help reduce the need for quarantining sick students.

“Seventeen other states, including most of Maryland’s neighbors, have required that all individuals wear masks in school buildings,” Choudhury said.

Choudhury said data will be reviewed each month, and the board of education will consider whether the requirement could be lifted, if conditions improve enough, in consultation with the state health department.

Opponents of the requirement criticized the previous vote by the board and Tuesday’s vote by lawmakers for encroaching on local school control. They backed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s position to let local officials decide on masks in schools.

The committee’s vote was along party lines, with 10 Democrats voting in support and seven Republicans voting against it.

Marsha Herbert, president of the Board of Education of Carroll County, urged the panel to vote against the mandate. But she said in a statement after the vote that the county would comply.

“The state of Maryland is not in a state of emergency,” Herbert testified before the vote. “The state board of education has definitely taken on a very large overreach of power.”

In Somerset County, which had a mask-optional policy, local school officials also issued a statement saying the county on the Eastern Shore would comply with the mandate.

The vote came as Maryland has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state reported an increase of 1,094 confirmed cases over a 24-hour period Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, hospitalizations reached 828, an increase of 26 from Monday, after having dipped below 100 on July 2.