BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted 8–0 to remove the mask mandate from its public schools on Wednesday.

That means masks will be optional for Anne Arundel County Public Schools students starting Feb. 19.

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“We all feel strongly it is time to move on,” said Rose Forrest who has three kids enrolled in public schools.

Parents across Maryland have been divided on the topic of masks in schools and vocal about their concerns.

Those who feel strongly about removing mask mandates are taking new measures to achieve that goal.

On Tuesday, a coalition of parents filed a lawsuit challenging the Maryland State Board of Education‘s mask mandate.

The board’s current policy allows schools to lift the mask mandate if at least 80% of the county population is vaccinated, if 80% of the school staff and students are vaccinated and if the county has gone 14 consecutive days with moderate to low transmission rate of COVID-19.

“The patience of parents has really begun to run out and they are eager to put an end to this,” said attorney Ed Hartman III, who’s representing a group going by Coalition of Maryland Parents.

Last week, the board explained in a press statement that its off-ramps were rooted in science, research, and guidance from public health experts, including the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health.

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Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent George Arlotto recommended that the mask mandate be lifted, citing statistics that show the county meets the “80% vaccinated” off-ramp required to remove the mask mandate.

“They said that there was an off ramp and we’ve reached that stage,” County Executive Steuart Pittman said on Tuesday. “We got there by doing hard work and getting our folks vaccinated. So yes, I think you have to stick with the plan . . . and that’s what they’re doing.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan had called on the Maryland State Board of Education to rescind its mask mandate, pointing to the state’s improving health metrics as the Omicron-driven surge in cases and hospitalizations continues to wane.

Hogan said in a letter to board president Clarence Crawford that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on children. They have been impacted by school closures and other disruptions leading to learning loss and mental health challenges, he said.

“A growing number of medical professionals, parents, and bipartisan state officials throughout the nation are calling for an end to school mask requirements,” Hogan wrote in the letter. “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.”

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education issued a statement on its decision to lift the mask mandate hours after its unanimous vote.

“The Board of Education tonight unanimously voted to lift the mask mandate in county school facilities, supporting a recommendation from Superintendent George Arlotto that came after the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland State Department of Education confirmed the county had hit the appropriate threshold to do so,” the board noted in its statement. “Masks will become optional in all AACPS buildings on Friday, February 18, 2022.”

But the board also noted that students will still be required to wear face masks on school buses.

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“Persons on schools buses will still be required to be masked per federal regulations and those at schools on Fort George G. Meade would need to continue to follow the regulations of the post,” the board said in its statement.

Annie Rose Ramos