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'There Was A Literal Roar of Rage From The Crowd' Debate Over Mask Mandates In Maryland Schools Turns Ugly

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Schools are just about to reopen, and mandates surrounding masks and vaccines are causing controversy.

In Baltimore County, the school system is mandating proof of vaccination for all staff members or a weekly COVID—19 test.

In Harford County, the debate over masks at a school board meeting Monday night got so heated, that meeting had to be suspended briefly.

Protestors pounded on the windows outside the meeting room. Many are upset that masks are being required for all children and staff.

Several people attending interrupted board members and everyone was ordered to leave.

"There was a time where communication could be a little bit more smooth, but they've been ignored for 18 months and so people are going to have their voices heard and maybe it's going to get a little loud, and it's all going to boil down to the next election cycle. Are we going to replace the people who have failed us?" Delegate Lauren Arikan, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford Counties, said.

Delegate Arikan told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren the mandatory mask policy is not necessary.

"They feel like there is a lack of science going into this decision. It's a lot of covid hysteria. There's more just theatrics than actual protection from the virus that's happening," Del. Arikan said.

She said some parents are withdrawing their children from public schools and the school board "is not a good reflection of our community and the values that we have out here so parents are sort of at a fever pitch. They're at a boiling point, and they are ready to walk away. That's how upset they are."

The group Together We Will supports the mask policy. They got shouted down outside the meeting with people screaming at them as they were leaving.

"It was very surprising, that level of intensity and rage. I was concerned for some of my members who were there as they started to get surrounded by the crowd as we were exiting. I was very appreciative of the Bel Air Police Department for escorting us to the garage and making sure we were able to exit safely," said Delane Lewis, the president of Together We Will. "When we exited the meeting there was a literal roar of rage from the crowd."

Lewis told Hellgren she believes masks are needed.

"It is not a political issue. It is a health and safety issue. The Harford County public school system is simply following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control," she said.

She lamented that what should have been a civil debate turned into a shouting match.

"I understand the larger picture of a parent being frustrated by someone telling them what they should do with their child. I don't know why we can't sit down and talk about reasonable solutions to the problem," Lewis said. "A year ago, everyone was so upset school was canceled, and they were more than happy to wear masks. Now, they are not willing to discuss it."

Most school systems in central Maryland are requiring masks, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, although the state school board left the choice up to individual districts and has not issued a requirement for facial coverings.

All of this comes as coronavirus cases are still rising in Maryland with more than 800 cases reported Monday. The positivity rate is inching closer to 5% and more than 600 people are currently hospitalized.

Governor Larry Hogan plans a coronavirus press briefing Wednesday afternoon.


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