State Board of Education Asks MSDE to Create Emergency Regs with Off Ramps for Masking in Schools

The State School Board of Education voted to have the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) develop a new set of emergency regulations that would establish localized off ramps for masking in public school facilities.

After a robust discussion, the State Board voted 12-2 today on a process to establish off ramps for its current masking mandate in school facilities. MSDE will now draft a new set of emergency regulations (with a 180 day cap) that includes considerations for local school districts, or even individual schools, to lift the mandate once the jurisdiction/school reached certain criteria. This criteria could include vaccination rates among students and staff, local transmission rates, and hospitalization rates, for example.

The current emergency regulation, passed and adopted in September to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools, requires masks to be worn in all public school facilities, with no local exceptions or off ramps.

Deliberations largely focused on local control and finding ways for local schools systems or even individual schools to implement masking off ramps. One possibility repeatedly mentioned was using county or even individual school vaccination rates to do so — once a county or school reached a certain level of youth vaccination, that school system or school could then consider unmasking.

Today’s conversation opened with Assistant State Superintendent Mary Gable presenting on the current status of COVID-19 cases and community-based transmission. Last week’s data showed a slight uptick in transmission rates in 21 local school systems, in-line with the state’s recent uptick.

Next, Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury offered his thoughts on how the state school system should best proceed with COVID mitigation policies. Choudhury emphasized the need to keep students learning in-person and to minimize quarantine learning as much as possible, noting the strong roll of masks in helping to do so. He stressed that the Board should not just wholly lift the current masking mandate without data to support doing so.

Prior to today’s move, the Board met on November 16 in special meeting to hear from the public, education leaders, and national medical experts on the policy. That meeting lasted nearly five hours and featured robust discussion on the benefits and challenges of masking in schools.

Stay tuned to the Conduit Street Blog for coverage on MSDE’s forthcoming suggested emergency regulations.

Video of the December 1 meeting is available online.

  • Deliberations on the mask policy start around 45 minutes.
  • Voting occurs around 2 hours.

Access the meeting agenda and materials.

Prior Conduit Street coverage on masking in schools:

At the MACo Winter Conference session, “Education Equity: Confronting the COVID Gap,” an expert panel will discuss how the emerging challenges and opportunities our students and institutions face coming in the “new normal,” from learning gaps, to inequities in resources and access.

The 2021 MACo Winter Conference, “Time to Reboot: Tomorrow’s Tech Today,” will be held at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, MD from December 8-10.

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference: