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General Assembly Committee Approves Mask Mandate In Public Schools

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- By a vote of 10 to 7, a Maryland General Assembly joint committee approved a mask mandate for all public schools in the state.

Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel County), co-chair of the committee, said the measure took effect immediately.

The state Board of Education on Aug. 26 adopted an emergency regulation requiring masks to be worn in all public schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A majority of the board voted in favor of the measure, which lasts for 180 days. There was one vote in opposition.

The General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review, comprised of 10 senators and 10 delegates, heard four hours of testimony on Tuesday from supporters and opponents of the state school board's mask requirement.

Prior to today's vote, 22 of 24 Maryland school districts already required masks be worn at all times, but Carroll County was one of the few school systems where masks were optional.

"Masking inside schools helps protect our students, teachers and school staff as we continue to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic," State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said following the vote. "It is critical that all school systems follow this emergency law, and immediately implement face covering requirements as one of several layered public health strategies to keep schools open and safe."

Following the vote, Republican senators on the committee released a statement saying they were "disappointed" by what they called an "overreach and political power grab." The mask mandate takes away the authority of local school boards to listen to parents and make their own decisions, the senators said.

"It is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not account for the variation in educational settings and COVID-19 metrics found throughout the state or allow for local flexibility to act and react quickly to changing metrics," the Republican lawmakers said. "It is an inappropriate overreach for the State Board of Education to reverse a local board's decision and then require that local board to enforce a mandate or risk their funding."

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) praised the vote in a statement Tuesday afternoon, calling the measure a "common-sense mask requirement" that comes as students and teachers are already back in the classroom.

"We know mask wearing helps slow the spread of COVID-19 and my goal has been to keep as many kids learning in school as possible," he said.

Marsha Herbert, president of the Board of Education of Carroll County, said the district would comply with the mandate. But she also said she was "disappointed and disheartened" by the committee's decision.

"Several of our Board members and many of our Carroll County citizens presented compelling testimony as to why this is not a good decision," Herbert said in a statement. "Today's action definitely takes away local control and strongly affects parent choice."

This story will be updated.


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