Worcester Public Schools To Start With Masks After State Board Vote; Protest Held Monday At School Board

Worcester Public Schools To Start With Masks After State Board Vote; Protest Held Monday At School Board
An anti-mask demonstration took place in front of the Worcester County Board of Education building Monday morning. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

NEWARK – Public school students in Worcester County will begin the school year with masks following a decision by the Maryland State Board of Education last week.

Superintendent Lou Taylor confirmed in a message to parents Friday that because of the state board’s emergency regulation requiring universal masking, Worcester County Public Schools students and staff will be required to wear face coverings.

“We know that the wearing of masks is a polarizing issue in our community; we have seen it the passionate letters, emails, social media comments, and more that we have received over these past months,” Taylor said. “I also know that we are all hoping to see a decline in the transmission levels in our community soon, so we can revisit this decision, but in the meantime, we need to protect every student’s ability to attend school in-person, and it will take all of us working together to make that happen.”

The state board voted 11-1 last Thursday to pass an emergency regulation requiring masks in schools to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While most jurisdictions had already mandated masks, five counties — Worcester, Somerset, Dorchester, Cecil and Carroll — had not. Taylor announced Aug. 17 that masks would be optional.

The day after the state board’s vote, however, Taylor released a message to parents detailing the new universal masking requirement.

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“Yesterday, the Maryland State Board of Education held a special meeting, where they voted to pass an emergency regulation requiring universal masking in all Maryland schools,” Taylor said. “In light of this vote, beginning on Monday, August 30, all students and staff – regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear face coverings in our school buildings.”

Taylor said universal masking was “a critical piece” to keeping in-person learning available to students.

“Last year, the rules for quarantining meant that if a student was within six-feet of a student who tested positive for a cumulative period of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, regardless of whether they were wearing a mask or not, that student was sent home for 10-14 days,” he said. “As we saw last year, these rules had a significant impact on in-person learning for many students. While these same rules remain in place for adults, the CDC has now issued an exception for school-aged students that is designed to protect our in-person learning environments. Under this exception, if students are masked, any student who is three feet or more from a student with COVID-19 will not be required to quarantine unless they are symptomatic. As you can imagine, this is great news for our students, for us as educators, and for our families, who certainly don’t want to experience a disruption to their child’s education and attendance, but also to those carefully crafted schedules that so many of our families rely on.”

Taylor said he was hoping to see a decline in COVID-19 transmission levels soon so the policy could be revisited. The state board indicated last week that the policy would be reviewed on a monthly basis to determine whether it should be continued.

Some community members expressed frustration over the decision, which they said took away local control. A group of more than a dozen concerned residents protested outside the Worcester County Board of Education’s central office Monday.

“We’re protesting against the state mask mandate,” Caryn Abbott said. “We need to bring control back to the county level and stop taking state money if they’re going to sell our kids out.”

Another protestor, a parent of several students in Worcester County schools, said she felt forcing kids to wear masks impacted social and language skills.

“They lose focus and they can’t learn from each other’s’ reactions,” she said.

Abbott said she wanted Taylor to stick to what he announced two weeks ago — that masks would be optional.

“We need to stop letting the state dictate what we do in our county,” she said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.