Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – February 11, 2022

Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – February 11, 2022

Whether it’s election year politics or decreasing positivity rates, probably a combination of both, there has been a major shift taking place with masking in schools. For many children, the only time they wear a mask is in a school because it’s the one place there is monitoring of positive cases resulting in close contact tracing. It’s bothersome to many parents their kids must wear a mask to school but not during any other aspect of life like recreation sports, sleepovers and dining out.

In Delaware, the indoor mask rule will be lifted Friday. Moreover, Delaware Gov. John Carney has chosen March 31 as the date to drop the school mask mandate (joining New Jersey and Virginia), citing the seven-week lead as an attempt to allow more time for school-aged children vaccinations as well as allowing health officials time to update quarantine and close contact guidance. It’s believed individual school systems will decide their course moving forward next month.

During his press conference Tuesday, it was believed Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan would weigh in on school masking. All Maryland public school student must by statewide resolution wear a facial covering but the window has been cracked by the Maryland State Department of Education through an “off ramp” policy that allows individual school systems to lift the masking rule if one of three indicators are met — if 80% of the county is vaccinated; or if 80% of the students and staff at a school are vaccinated; or if the county’s transmission rate is low or moderate for 14 consecutive days.

On Tuesday, Hogan made it clear he will not be following the lead on masks in schools set by Virginia, Delaware and New Jersey. Hogan was asked by a reporter whether he thinks a statewide rule on school masks was appropriate versus a local rule approach.

“Our position has been pretty clear for the last two years. The law allows these duly elected local governments and school boards and county executives to make their own decisions. We have tried to provide guidance and we have certainly let them know when we thought they were making the wrong decisions,” Hogan said. “We have taken some statewide actions when we thought they were necessary but at this point we are making recommendations to the state board of education and saying we think it’s time to take a look. I don’t see us taking the kind of action that (Virginia) Gov. Youngkin did … I don’t believe that we have the authority to demand that school boards do what I say. Voters elected them. But we’re going to certainly weigh in when we think that they’re being too aggressive.”

Evidently that time came 48 hours later, as Hogan penned a letter Thursday to the Maryland State Board of Education requesting the current mask policy be rescinded. It said, “it is critical to move toward normalcy for students and families by rescinding the school masking policy that 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 (AELR). We must all learn to live with this virus, not in fear of it….  Last month, you stated the State Board of Education would continue reviewing current COVID-19 metrics to assess the need for the continuation of the school mask regulation. 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.”

Local mailboxes were filled last week with letters from the Worcester County Board of Elections informing voters of the option to vote by mail rather than using the current absentee ballot system. To do so, voters need to return the notice to request a mail-in ballot or go online to make the change. Doing nothing will keep the voting status as in person. This was a national change made after the 2020 election to making voting easier during the pandemic. Detractors to the change worry about fraud and misconduct by some voters. These concerns are understandable, as at my house this week we received notices for two relatives who passed away in 2020 and 2021. We mailed them back informing the state the voters were deceased.

Delegate Wayne Hartman had pre-filed a bill to addresse the potential for deceased individuals to receive requests for vote-by-mail ballots. House Bill 169 would have, if passed, “required the State Administrator of Elections to make arrangements with crematories, morticians and funeral directors around the state to receive reports of names and addresses of individuals who were Maryland residents at the time and died…”

Hartman said this week the intent of the bill was precisely what happened at my house. However, he pulled the legislation back for a variety of reasons.

During a briefing before the bill’s introduction, Hartman was informed by state Board of Elections officials there were processes in place to prevent that from ever happening. Hartman also said he also got some pushback from funeral homes saying they didn’t want to be involved in the process for verifying the status of deceased individuals for election purposes and that he didn’t want to put an added burden on businesses. He said is taking a deeper dive into this issue specifically and election reform issues in general and this bill, or a similar bill, could return in a future session.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.