The Montgomery County Board of Education lifted the county schools' indoor mask mandate Tuesday, March 8, effective immediately, making mask-wearing in school buildings, facilities and on transportation optional for all.

Indoor mask-wearing is now only required in accordance with quarantine and isolation guidelines, which aligns with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maryland Department of Health and the local Department of Health and Human Services.

The decision came after a unanimous vote during a Board meeting Tuesday and words from the board’s president, Brenda Wolff, on reactions to the mandate removal.

“We respect the decisions of our families, our students, our teachers and our administrators, and we ask that our community demonstrate that same respect,” Wolff said. “This board and our administration will not tolerate any bullying or harassment of our community members who choose to continue wearing masks.”

The board’s vote follows the Maryland State Board of Education’s 12-2 vote on Feb. 22 to rescind the state-wide mask mandate by March 1, returning the masking policy decision to local districts.

Three days later, the Maryland General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee voted 17-1 to rescind the mask mandate and uphold previous recommendations by the state board.

In making their decision, the county board considered that based on the new CDC framework, the COVID-19 community level in Montgomery County is as low, and masking guidelines for schools and now follow the same guidelines for the community in which they are located.

County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa B. McKnight acknowledged the diverging opinions on mandating indoor mask-wearing and urged respectful dialogue around the issue.

“Hearing the stories and hearing the all the specific examples around why a person’s opinion is what it is, is to be valued, and I just want to come upfront saying every opinion and every circumstance that we've heard about is one that we will value, and we absolutely empathize and understand the things that encourage the diverging opinions when we talk about this topic,” McKnight said.

The optional nature of masks has caused new experiences for both students and staff. For some teachers, teaching has become more enjoyable and less challenging.

“[I was] relieved that we are at a point where [masks] can be safely removed. Teaching all day with masks has been fatiguing and hard to speak [in] for [an] extended time,” Cabin John Middle School Instrumental Teacher Scott Herman said. “More effort has gone into trying to project our voices to the large classes I teach. Additionally, the added playing masks and bell covers in band has created numerous obstacles for both teaching band and playing instruments.”

For some students, the mandate wasn’t necessary to encourage mask-wearing, and it will remain routine.

“For the past year in-person, I've still believed strongly in keeping masks on,” said Winston Churchill High School Senior and incoming Carnegie Mellon University freshman Jessica Qiu said. “Classrooms are usually full and students are sitting close to each other, and although a lot of people are boosted, I think masks are still important. I still feel this way after the mask mandate has been removed.”

Ultimately, with this decision, the County is giving everyone choice.

“[It] comes down to respect. If we can continue to respect each individual's choice to wear or not wear a mask, then all is good,” Cabin John Middle School Math Resource Teacher Christopher Pichola said. “We have much bigger issues to contend with in our world than to worry about who decides to wear a mask or not.”

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