WESTOVER — Somerset County Public Schools is once again following its mask optional policy for students, staff and visitors after the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review (AELR) voted 17-1 last Friday to rescind the regulation and let county school boards make their own decisions.
The committee’s lone “no” vote came from Wicomico-Dorchester Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes. The majority however aligned itself with the Maryland State Board of Education’s 12-2 decision three days earlier to rescind the policy requiring masks in public schools.
“Based on the positive trends in the county’s COVID-19 health metrics, SCPS administration intends to revert back to Mask Optional Policy 200-27 for students, staff and visitors in school buildings passed by the Somerset Board of Education at the start of the 2021-2022 school year,” a SCPS spokesperson said.
“Additionally, the CDC regulation requiring masks on all public school transportation vehicles was lifted, making masks optional on SCPS school buses and vans.”
Superintendent Dr. John Gaddis said, “We are happy to be in a place where we can now offer students and staff a choice. Masks were just one part of our health and safety protocols designed to keep our schools open for in-person learning. We continue to remain vigilant by monitoring our local health metrics and upholding all other health and safety protocols which encourage proper hygiene, distancing, and regular cleaning and disinfecting in schools.
“Students and staff who prefer to continue wearing a mask in our buildings may do so, if they choose.”
Tuesday last week was the date Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the mask requirement for state buildings. He encouraged the state board to do the same, but did not feel he had the power to override its recommendation or the power of the AELR committee.
Mohammed Choudhury, state superintendent of schools, said the face covering requirement reduced transmission of COVID-19, especially the omicron variety, and “the time is right” to make it optional.
“As the health data is continuing to show improvement, we are now at a point where we can restore the authority for these decisions to our local jurisdictions,” said State Board of Education member Charles Dashiell Jr. of Wicomico County. “Given the improving health metrics, it is appropriate for the local boards of education to make the decisions which they feel are in the best interests of the students they serve and providing them a safe, in-person learning environment.”
With this decision the lawsuit filed in Somerset County Circuit Court by the Coalition of Maryland Parents LLC against the state board’s masking policy was expected to be withdrawn. However, the legal team that brought the case was expected to continue to serve as a watchdog for the parent group on future state board actions it might question.