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Maryland governor calls to end school mask requirement

Hogan cited the state’s improving health metrics, a well as the widespread availability of vaccines for school-age children.

“A growing number of medical professionals, parents, and bipartisan state officials throughout the nation are calling for an end to school mask requirements,” the Republican governor wrote in a letter to Clarence Crawford, the board’s president. “In light of dramatic improvements to our health metrics and the widespread availability of vaccines, I am calling on you to take action to rescind this policy.”

Lora Rakowski, a board spokeswoman, said the board appreciates the governor’s input and is in the process of responding.

Earlier this week, the board released a statement saying it was “watching with optimism as COVID-19 metrics improve in the State because our goal has been and continues to be to provide safe in person instruction for our children and staff with minimal disruptions.”

The statement added that the board “will continue its practice of reviewing current COVID-19 metrics in the State to assess the need for the continuation of the regulation.”

“Our commitment has not changed,” the board said in its statement. “The emergency regulation does provide research-based off-ramps for local school systems and schools based on vaccination and transmission rates.”

Under the regulation, local school systems can decide to end the mask requirement if the spread of the virus is moderate or low for 14 days in a row or if vaccination rates are higher than 80% in the school or community.

“So long as the public health data that was indicated in the regulations are met, then boards have the discretion to move forward or not,” Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said.

Hogan sent the letter on the same day he announced that COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maryland have fallen below 1,000. The governor noted that hospitalizations have dropped by 71% since peaking last month just below 3,500.

While the pandemic has presented challenges for everyone, the governor wrote that ‘it has been perhaps most difficult and disruptive for children.”

“The consequences include failing grades, regressed social development, and increased mental health challenges,” Hogan wrote. “If these trends are not reversed quickly, we face the unthinkable prospect of a generation left behind, both academically and socially.”

Hogan also pointed out that Maryland ended the state’s indoor mask mandate in May. While he praised Crawford for supporting in-person instruction and emphasizing social-emotional health, the governor wrote that “now, it is critical to move toward normalcy for students and families by rescinding the school masking policy.”

The policy was adopted by the State Board of Education in Dec. 2021, and enacted by the Maryland General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review Committee.

“We must all learn to live with this virus, not in fear of it,” Hogan wrote.

Brian Witte reports for The Associated Press.