Deerfield Run Elementary School Assistant Principal Nicole Scott helps parents and students line up at the Laurel, Maryland, school on Sept. 8, the first day of classes in Prince George's County. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Deerfield Run Elementary School Assistant Principal Nicole Scott helps parents and students line up at the Laurel, Maryland, school on Sept. 8, the first day of classes in Prince George's County. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

A Maryland legislative committee approved an emergency declaration Tuesday for public school students, teachers and staff to wear masks or face coverings.

The declaration, first approved last month by the state board of education, takes effect immediately and will stay in place until Feb. 25 as a way to “prevent public school closures and limit the number of students required to quarantine out of the classroom during the 2021–2022 school year due to COVID-19.”

Lawmakers on the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review voted 10-7 in support of a mask requirement during a four-hour virtual public hearing.

“I really think this is good, public policy that protects our children and educational staff as we navigate these really challenging times,” said Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-District 47) of Cheverly, who voted in favor of the declaration.

All the Republican members voted against it, with some explaining it takes away control from local school officials.

“The regulation is just one more step to remove local discretion in public education and it’s not warranted,” said Sen. Robert Cassilly (R-Harford County). “It seems that it’s more of a political statement.”

As of Tuesday, the state health department reports nearly 1,100 confirmed coronavirus cases over the most recent 24-hour period. Hospitalizations increased by 26 patients from Monday for a total of 828. The figure sat below 800 on Sept. 6.

Most of the state’s 24 school systems require students and school staff to wear masks in buildings and on buses.

Somerset and Carroll counties represented the only two school systems that didn’t implement universal mask policies, but a summary of the declaration requires them to adopt policies and procedures “expeditiously.”

Carroll County residents made up at least half of the people who testified during the virtual hearing, which wasn’t short on fireworks as parents lashed out at lawmakers.

Trey Stokely, 42, opposes the declaration because it takes away a parent’s right to choose.

“My wife and I do a damn good job at parenting our two kids,” he said. “I truly appreciate your offer, but I respectfully decline your assistance in helping me parent my children.”

Not all Carroll County parents agree with the school board’s decisions to not offer virtual learning in July for summer school and to only make masks optional.

“This board has not done everything it could do to keep our kids safe,” said Niki Guinan, who has two children younger than 12 and therefore ineligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. “We rely on you to act responsibly in defense of our kids.”

Shortly after the vote, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) released a statement to applaud the committee’s vote.

“This measure, which the Senate called for weeks ago, comes at a time when school has already begun across the state and the protection of our children needs to remain our top priority,” Ferguson said. “We know mask-wearing helps slow the spread of COVID-19 and my goal has been to keep as many kids learning in school as possible.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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