A Maryland county is bringing back the school mask mandate as the 2022 school year starts, citing an uptick in COVID cases.
Prince George’s County Public Schools announced Friday that face masks will be mandatory again at all schools and facilities in the district.
The policy took effect on Monday, and it will stay in effect until further notice, the district said.
School officials said in a statement that the mask mandate is back in effect “in light of the highly contagious COVID-19 BA.5 variant,” and said the district is following county health department recommendations.
“When responding to public health threats like COVID-19, Maryland school districts have flexibility to determine mask-wearing policies,” the district said in its statement, which was posted to Facebook.
“The mask policy is subject to change according to local and/or state health departments guidelines, and the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the district said.
As of Friday, the CDC ranked the county’s COVID community level as high. Prince George’s County, less than 20 miles outside Washington, D.C., has about one million residents, the majority of whom are black, and another 20% of whom are Latino. The county’s school district is the second largest in the state and serves about 130,000 students with a $2.3 billion annual budget.
In July, the district made face masks optional in Prince George’s County schools for the first time since the pandemic began, but Friday’s announcement reverses that decision.
Students return to classrooms on August 29.
In February, Maryland’s education department voted to return decisions about masking to local authorities.
The department heard from parents and community leaders passionately urging it to lift mask mandates in schools.
“You are teaching our students to fear their teachers, fear their friends, and fear the air they breathe,” one mom said.
“Our kids suffer harm,” said Jamie Brenna, parent and spokesperson for Moms for Liberty. Brenna added that face masks exacerbate ADHD and have negative effects like “causing fear that if someone they love gets COVID it will somehow be their fault.”
“Our students have benefitted both academically and in their social-emotional health by returning to in-person learning this school year. As a Board, and together with our staff and local health department, we need to be able to make this decision regarding the next step in our children’s return to normalcy,” wrote James A. Newcomb, Jr., president of the education board in Caroline County, in a letter to the state board at the time.
Many public school districts have been slow to part with mask mandates compared with local governments and businesses.
Last school year, parents and students across the country protested mask mandates at public schools, demanding they be lifted, with students walking out of school en masse.
However, Prince George’s County is not the only county doubling down on school mask mandates even this late into the pandemic.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s largest school district, reinstated its school mask mandate the same day last week.
Classes for students in the Philadelphia area begin on August 29.