BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A state panel voted 17-1 Friday to revoke a statewide mask mandate in Maryland schools.

With the regulation rescinded, the decision on face coverings for students and staff is now in the hands of local districts.

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Earlier this week, the Maryland State Board of Education voted 12-2 to rescind its mandate, but final approval rested with the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review, a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers that oversees regulations or standards.

One committee member was absent for Friday’s vote.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who on Feb. 10 called for the board to drop its policy, said the vote is “an important victory for students and parents.”

The chairs of the legislative committee, Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel County) and Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), released a statement after the vote urging local jurisdictions to follow the “off-ramps” the board of education previously established for lifting the mandate.

“As our State moves forward, many will continue to live with and be adversely impacted by COVID-19,” the lawmakers said. “Therefore, we should be mindful and sensitive to the concerns and needs of all Marylanders in the coming months. We should all endeavor to model decency and care to our fellow Marylanders.”

Shortly after the vote, Carroll County Public Schools said masking at schools in the jurisdiction is now optional, effective immediately.

The Board of Education of Carroll County had previously voted to immediately drop the mandate following any changes to the statewide regulation or if the county reached one of the existing “off-ramps.”

Appearing before the committee, State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said he thought the time is right to remove the statewide regulation.

Forthcoming guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to tie masking, social distancing and other mitigation protocols to new COVID-19 hospitalizations, the percentage of beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and the rate of cases per 100,000 residents, rather than the total number of cases in a community, he said.

“Using that framework, Maryland is in a great place,” Choudhury said.

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He echoed comments he made earlier this week that the school mask mandate proved effective.

“I’m very proud of the original regulation,” he said. “I said it, if I could go back, I would do it with the conditions it had. And it did what it needed to do.”

After implementing the mandate in August, the school board created benchmarks in December for lifting the policy. School systems where 80% of the county is vaccinated, 80% of the students and staff at a school are vaccinated or the county’s transmission rate is “low” or “moderate” for 14 consecutive days could remove the mandate.

On Feb. 16, Anne Arundel County unanimously voted to make masks optional after hitting the countywide vaccination off-ramp.

Citing a low transmission rate, the Howard County Board of Education made the same decision Thursday night, giving parents and students the option to choose starting March 1.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Choudhury said local districts can still choose to use the “off-ramps” when weighing their mask policies.

“We have a very smart response, we have very smart off-ramps, let them decide,” he said. “If they want to come up and use one of the off-ramps, they can. If they do not, then that is fine.”

Choudhury added conditions are better in the state and vaccines and testing are more readily available.

Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, told the school board 73.7% of the population has received the primary series of COVID-19 vaccinations, meaning two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, two shots of the Moderna vaccine or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

There are an estimated 451,775 Marylanders between the ages of 12 and 17, and 74.5% of them are vaccinated, said Chan.

But only 36.9% of children in the state between the ages of 5 and 11 are vaccinated.

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“The key message here is, again, vaccines work to prevent even kids from getting severely ill,” said Chan.

CBS Baltimore Staff