BREAKING: Maryland lawmakers mandate masks in public schools, local parents react
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Members of the Maryland General Assembly has voted to mandate masks in all public schools statewide. The Joint Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review committee passed the mandate in a 10-7 vote Tuesday afternoon. Everyone in school buildings will be required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status, effective immediately.
Two Eastern Shore legislators serve on the committee. State Sen. Addie Eckhardt, voted no, stating concerns over a “one size fits all” approach. Another local legislator, Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes, voted yes on the measure. Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes says the mandate could prevent illnesses and help save lives.
Prior to the vote, only two counties in Maryland did not have mask mandates in place; Somerset and Carroll Counties. Somerset County Public Schools (SCPS) says they are ready to comply, and will put their mandate officially in place on September 15th. “Right now we have a majority of our students in masks. We’ve seen that since we started school. But, I think it’ll be very easy to implement,” said Superintendent Dr. John Gaddis. “Our goal the entire year was the give parents that option, that if you wanted to mask up, you could mask up. Our agreement was, with the Board who supported this, that we were going to go to looking at our numbers.”
Parents tell 47ABC they’re breathing a sigh of relief now that the statewide mandate has passed. Melissa Hylton says it provides some peace of mind when sending her kids to school. “I feel like my children are suffering because everybody around us is fighting a political battle. That’s not what this is. It’s a life battle,” said Hylton.
Other parents say they’re hoping the masks will keep their kids safe in class, now that virtual learning is not an option. “I would be much happier to see all the children wearing masks, and to be able to go to school and enjoy the school setting, and to be doing what they need to be doing in a school setting,” said SCPS parent Dana Pham.
But even with the mandate in place, some parents are still calling on SCPS to let students decide on if they want to learn in person or virtually. “We need mask mandates or making virtual an option for these children. Last year it was an option, and they basically mandated it,” said SCPS parent Veronia Lofland.
Dr. Gaddis says he understands why some parents may want virtual learning to come back. But, it won’t be happening this year. “We have to make decisions for the whole county. We have so many internet issues, we have resource issues with staff trying to run virtual, and really what it comes down to is it’s an equity issue,” said Dr. Gaddis.
As SCPS complies with the statewide mandate, Dr. Gaddis tells 47ABC he gets it: Not everyone wants to wear a mask. But he says that’s just the reality now, and safety is paramount. “This is a lose-lose situation because we know there are people on both sides of this. But one of the things we try to do as the Board of Education is to be non-political,” said Dr. Gaddis. “Frankly, everybody is tired of talking about masks, and our job is to educate. So, we need to educate whether you have a mask on or not.”