A Maryland legislative committee on Friday approved the State Board of Education’s decision to allow all 24 local school districts to decide whether to require face coverings in schools.
The decision, effective immediately, ends an emergency order mandating the masking in schools that had been in effect since the beginning of the school year. Both Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and the state superintendent of schools, Mohammed Choudhury, had lobbied for the decision.
The Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents 76,000 teachers and other support staff, had urged caution, asking for the mask mandate to remain in place longer.
The mandate was updated in December to allow local school systems the option to end the mask requirement if the spread of the coronavirus remains moderate or low for two weeks, or if the vaccination rate is higher than 80 percent in the school or community. A few school districts have passed the threshold, and one, Anne Arundel County, met the standards and decided to make masks optional. Face coverings will remain required on school buses.
Cheryl Bost, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher who serves as the union’s president, said in an interview that the system was working well and that school districts were reaching safe levels. She had urged waiting a week or two before removing the state mask mandate.
“You must allow districts and families transitional time to make decisions,” she said. “There are students and educators currently able to take part in in-person instruction because of the mask mandate.”
Ms. Bost, who is immunocompromised, said the union wants students and families with higher levels of vulnerability to have increased remote-schooling options. Educators with special medical needs should also have paid sick leave or alternate job placements, she said, and districts should continue to provide masks, testing and contact tracing to keep community transmission rates low.
Fewer than 10 states still require masks in K-12 schools, though federal guidance recommends that people in places with outbreaks, and all students, teachers and school staff members, wear masks regardless of their vaccination status. Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon, among other states, have announced plans to lift statewide mask requirements in schools, citing the easing of the Omicron surge.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release new guidelines on Friday for determining when and where people should wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid crowded indoor spaces. According to two federal officials with knowledge of the plans, the guidelines will direct counties to consider three measures to assess risk of the virus: new Covid-related hospital admissions over the previous week, the percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients and new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the previous week.
“Using the new framework, Maryland is in a great place,” Mr. Choudhury, the school superintendent, said Friday afternoon. “We can’t mask our kids forever. This is a good time to do it.”