ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (WJZ) — Howard County’s public school system became Maryland’s first to require either vaccines or mandatory testing for all employees.

“I have not wavered in my conviction that fully in-person instruction is absolutely best for our students academically and for their social and emotional well-being,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a statement. “I want to make use of every tool available that will assist in mitigation to allow us to keep schools open. I don’t want to leave anything to chance in keeping children safe.”

Some fear another surge when children head back to school in just a few weeks. Annette Anderson, the deputy director of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, said there has been a lack of consistency around mask and vaccine requirements and that has left parents confused.

“We are at the moment where schools are trying to rebuild the trust of parents so that they can welcome students back into the building, and now with all of the back-and-forth about whether vaccines will be mandated, whether or not masks should be mandated or optional, it just sends another signal to parents that there is no direct guidance that parents can trust as we head back into the new school year,” Anderson said

At a legislative meeting Wednesday, one state lawmaker questioned the Baltimore Teachers’ Union about whether they support mandatory vaccinations for educators.

“It’s literally a matter of life or death so I just want to say confidently in my personal capacity I feel very strongly that every adult that comes in contact with children should be putting their safety first,” said Del. Stephanie Smith, a Baltimore City Democrat.

“We have yet to survey our members about vaccine mandates. That’s something we’ll be doing moving forward,” said Diamontè Brown, the head of BTU.

Carroll County had a heated debate this week about mandating masks in schools.

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Some parents and school board members said face coverings are tough for students to wear and make it hard for teachers to communicate with students. Others said masks are necessary to keep infections down and some students with serious underlying health conditions feared going back into the classroom without everyone wearing a mask.

The school board ultimately decided not to require them despite CDC guidance to do so.

“Masks should be optional unless mandated by the governor otherwise,” said school board member Donna Sivigny.

Most central Maryland school districts are mandating universal indoor masking for students and staff. That includes Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Howard County.

 

On Thursday, Harford County became the latest district to require universal masking.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.