BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The Maryland State Board of Education on Tuesday approved a new rule clearing the way for local school districts to lift mask mandates covering their jurisdictions if certain benchmarks are met.
The board voted 12-1 to repeal the existing mask mandate and replace it with a rule that would extend mask requirements through the end of the school year but allow districts' mandates to be lifted based on local vaccination or transmission rates.
The measure must be approved by the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review.
Board member and retired Brig. Gen. Warner Sumpter cast the lone vote against the measure, voicing concerns about what it means for local control.
"I know we want to do what's right for the children, but at the same time, we're taking away the vote from the local boards who are talking to the parents who elect these board members," Sumpter said.
According to the new regulation, districts would be allowed to lift their mask mandates under the following scenarios: 80% of the county is vaccinated, 80% of the students and staff at a school are vaccinated or if the county's transmission rate is "low" or "moderate" for 14 consecutive days.
While there are currently no school districts in Maryland that meet the criteria laid out in the new rule, Board President Clarence Crawford said the milestones would give districts a blueprint of sorts.
"It gives them something to work towards," Crawford told WJZ.
Even though no Maryland county has cleared the 80% vaccination hurdle yet, the regulation allows for individual schools to lift their own mandates should they reach that threshold.
"Masks are important because not everyone can be vaccinated," said Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association. "We need to improve the rates of vaccination."
"We need to keep our students safe. We need to keep them in schools so they can learn," Board member Lori Morrow said.
As of Tuesday, more than 7,000 Maryland public school students were in quarantine either due to COVID-19 infection or close contact with someone who is infected.
Glen Burnie high schooler Jaqueline says masks can be a pain - but they keep everyone safe.
"Even if you wanna keep yourself safe you're also at the same time keeping others safe if you keep it on," she said.
State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury declined to speak with WJZ following Tuesday's meeting, but during the discussion, he said the new measures are all about keeping Maryland's schools open.
"Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Florida—they've closed schools multiple times in the fall," Choudhury said. "Entire districts have closed for weeks."
While students will keep wearing masks for now, the goal is clear: giving local schools and districts a way to lift mandates once it's considered safe to do so.
"If we can get control of the virus in our communities, nobody loves the masks," Morrow said. "We'd all love to be done with the masks."
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