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Maryland State Board Of Education To Review School Mask Mandate

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- With Maryland's COVID-19 metrics showing promise, the State Board of Education said it will evaluate the need for masks to be worn in schools when it meets later this month.

"The Maryland State Board of Education is watching with optimism as COVID-19 metrics improve in the state in order to provide safe in person instruction for our children and staff with minimal disruptions," Board President Clarence Crawford said in a statement Friday.

In fact, Crawford said, the board anticipated that conditions would improve when members decided to have the school mask mandate sunset at the end of the current school year.

Crawford's remarks come a day after Gov. Larry Hogan called for the State Board of Education to lift its mask mandate for schools, saying "a growing number of medical professionals, parents, and bipartisan state officials throughout the nation are calling for an end to school mask requirements."

"In light of dramatic improvements to our health metrics and the widespread availability of vaccines, I am calling on you to take action to rescind this policy," Hogan said Thursday in a letter to Crawford.

On Friday, Maryland's COVID-19 positivity rate fell below the 5% mark for the first time in nearly three months, according to state health department data. Similarly, the number of hospitalizations is below 1,000. Both of those figures are well below the peaks they saw last month.

In its statement, the Board of Education noted that it reviews the need for the mask mandate at each of its monthly meetings. The panel also pointed out that there are research-based "off ramps" in place for schools to lift the mandates themselves.

Under the existing policy, schools can lift mask mandates if they meet certain requirements—if 80% of the county's population is vaccinated, if 80% of the school's students and staff are vaccinated or if the county's transmission rate is "low" or "moderate" for 14 consecutive days.

State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury defended the mandate, saying issuing it was necessary to keep schools open at a time when the state was dealing with elevated community spread, the lack of vaccine access for children under 12 and the Omicron variant.

"The face covering requirement helped keep all of our schools open through the Fall—as many schools and entire districts closed around the country—and helped our school systems weather the Omicron surge and preserve in-person learning for the majority of our students," Choudhury said.

While the superintendent said he looks forward to working with the Board of Education to reevaluate the need for a mask mandate, he noted that the board's decisions will continue to prioritize the safety of students and staff in classroom settings.

"We will continue to remain laser focused on our mission to unapologetically lead and boldly confront the impact of the pandemic in our school communities, mitigate learning loss, accelerate student learning, and support the social and emotional needs of our children and staff," he said.

The governor acknowledged the board's statement with one of his own on Friday.

"We appreciate the State Board of Education agreeing to review and re-evaluate its school mask policy at its next meeting on February 22," the governor said in a tweet, accompanied by the phone number and email address for the Board of Education.

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