School Board Meeting Canceled Over Refusal To Wear Masks; Most Attendees Violated Protocols

SALISBURY – Education officials are looking to reschedule a monthly meeting of the Wicomico County Board of Education after attendees this week refused to follow masking requirements.

On Tuesday evening, following a 15-minute closed session, the Wicomico County Board of Education (WCBOE) was prepared to begin the public portion of its monthly meeting. Board members, however, voted to adjourn without going into open session after several community members, in attendance to share their concerns and protest the school system’s mask mandate, refused to follow masking and social distancing requirements.

“If you believe the decision of the student wearing a mask should be up to the parent, we need you at this meeting,” reads an online call to action posted on Facebook. “If you believe the decision of the teacher wearing a mask should be up to the teacher you need to be at this meeting. If you have a friend or family member in Wicomico County school system and you want these decisions to remain up to that person and not be mandated, you need to be at this meeting.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, Public Information Officer Tracy Sahler said it was not possible to hold the meeting while following state and school system health and safety guidelines for masking.

“Many of those who gathered in the lobby of 101 Long Avenue refused to abide by the Maryland state mask mandate for everyone in schools and school buildings, as approved by the Maryland State Board of Education and supported Tuesday by a state legislative committee,” she said. “The CDC recommendation for 6 feet of physical distancing was also not being observed, and it was not possible to safely hold the meeting.”

Untra Solar Group Advertorial

Sahler said WCBOE members are currently working on a date and time for a rescheduled meeting. She added that consideration will be given for holding the meeting at a larger venue in the school system, but that masks would be required of all attendees.

“As soon as a new meeting date has been established, the information will be posted,” she said.

Tuesday’s meeting comes one month after Wicomico County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin announced the school system would require all students, staff and visitors, regardless of age or vaccination status, to wear masks while inside WCPS facilities.

“Our goal is to keep our schools open,” she said at last month’s board meeting. “To achieve that goal, we need to adhere to the guidance of health experts.”

While they said they would support Hanlin’s decision, four WCBOE members – Tonya Laird Lewis, Anne Suthowski, John Palmer and Chairman Gene Malone – argued last month that 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.”

Within weeks of WCPS issuing its own guidance, the state board of education voted in favor of universal masking requirements, a decision supported by the General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee earlier this week in 10-7 vote.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

Alternative Text

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.