BALTIMORE — The Maryland State Board of Education voted 13-1 to require masks in public schools during a special meeting Aug. 26. All but five of the state’s 24 districts had already announced that masks would be required in their schools when classes resume next week.
The move was prompted by rapidly increasing numbers of infections, led by the virus’s Delta variant.
The Dorchester County Board of Education had deferred a decision at their meeting on Aug. 19, during which the members heard support and opposition to the move.
“That should be the parent and child’s choice,” Sarah Geer said. “I ask you to think about the psychological trauma that mask wearing causes for children.”
After the meeting, Mary Handley posted online, “They only let a small number of people in the meeting to keep folks safe from COVID. How many kids will be sitting in your kid’s classroom? These board members assume responsibility for our students. When school starts and the kids and their relatives get sick, indeed they will be responsible.”
At the state board’s meeting, members — all of whom were wearing masks — shared their views.
Gen. Warner I. Sumpter (ret.) said, “Do what’s right for the children,” noting that he was concerned about the possibility of students’ having to return to online classes.
Member Shawn Bartley said, “I err on the side of caution. Wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience, not an infringement of our freedoms.”
Student representative Kevin Boukum supported a mask mandate, saying to parents, “Wouldn’t you rather have your kids be masked than online?”
Member Gail Bates said, “I prefer to keep the decision in the jurisdictions. I have a problem with the one-size-fits-all solution.” Ms. Bates was the only member to vote against the mandate.
He said the board members can work together, and regardless of disagreements, “We respect each other.”
Superintendent W. David Bromwell said Aug. 25 that he would comment on Aug. 27, following the state board’s decision.
Public comment was not accepted during the meeting, which was available for viewing via livestream.
Families are left wondering how the situation will develop when classes resume. Mr. Bromwell pledged Aug. 19 to keep staff and students’ health uppermost in his decisions.
While state and local school boards wrestle with preventive measures, many of the people they serve remain opposed for personal or political reasons. In Dorchester County, a little more than half the population is vaccinated, similar to other Shore areas — about a third of Somerset’s residents have their shots.
As many continue to hope for the best while infections increase nationwide, some are bracing for the worst. Amber Chandler posted online, “As school starts, all hell is gonna break loose, like in other areas.”