Wicomico Schools Opt For Masks While Transmission High

SALISBURY – Wicomico County Public Schools will require all students and staff to wear masks indoors while community transmission rates remain high.

In a meeting of the Wicomico County Board of Education on Tuesday, Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin announced the school system will require all students and staff, regardless of age or vaccination status, to wear masks while inside Wicomico County Public Schools (WCPS) facilities beginning Aug. 11.

“Our goal is to keep our schools open,” she said. “To achieve that goal, we need to adhere to the guidance of health experts.”

Hanlin said community transmission rates, which are monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, remain high in Wicomico County. She noted until those rates improve to “moderate” or “low,” masks will be required inside all school system buildings. She said exceptions will be made when eating or going outside.

“Wicomico County, according to the CDC, is currently at the most extreme level in the four categories of community transmission …,” she said. “We are where we were at the end of January, early February of last year.”

Hanlin told community members this week the school system will continue to provide diagnostic testing and enhanced cleaning and ventilation measures and will maintain physical distancing at three feet. She added WCPS would continue to stress the importance of hand washing and COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We will continue to provide clinics for the administration of the vaccine,” she said. “That is our top priority. Vaccination is the answer.”

While they said they would support the superintendent’s decision, four board members – Tonya Laird Lewis, Anne Suthowski, John Palmer and Chairman Gene Malone – argued masking should be a family choice.

“I personally don’t like mandates, and I would like to have an option for the parents,” Suthowski said. “But the superintendent is in charge – that’s what we hired her for – and we expect her to carry out whatever she feels is necessary.”

Malone agreed.

“We are charged with keeping the schools as safe and healthy as possible …,” he said. “I’m going to rely on the fact that when we drop to low and moderate, we will take the masks off.”

During public comments this week, Wicomico County Education Association (WCEA) President Joan Smith told board members the organization supported a masking mandate, along with other safety measures, for the coming school year.

“WCEA supports a safe and healthy learning environment,” she said.

Parent Pamela Jones, however, argued masks were not effective when worn by younger students.

“My biggest concern right now is masks …,” she told board members. “I believe we should protect everyone. Putting a mask on a six-year-old, an eight-year-old is not the way to do it.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.