School vaccination figures in New York show deep disparities between rich and poor.

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Credit…Rosem Morton for The New York Times

On Friday, a Maryland legislative committee approved the State Board of Education’s decision to allow 24 local school districts to decide whether or not to require face coverings in schools.

The decision, effective immediately, ends an emergency order mandating masking in schools that had been in effect since the start of the school year. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and state schools superintendent Mohammed Choudhury had pushed for the decision, which came before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new masking guidelines that allow many other parts of the country to mitigate the pandemic. limitations.

The Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents 76,000 teachers and other support staff, had urged caution, asking that the mask mandate remain in place longer.

The mandate was updated in December to allow local school systems to end the mask requirement if the spread of the coronavirus remains moderate or low for two weeks, or if the vaccination rate is above 80% in the school or the community. A few school districts have crossed the threshold, and one, Anne Arundel County, has met the standards and decided to make masks optional. Face coverings will remain mandatory on school buses.

Cheryl Bost, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher who serves as president of the union, said in an interview that the system is working well and school districts are reaching safe levels. She had urged waiting a week or two before withdrawing the state mask mandate.

“You need to give districts and families transition time to make decisions,” she said. “There are students and educators currently able to participate in in-person instruction due to the mask mandate.”

Ms Bost, who is immunocompromised, said the union wants the most vulnerable students and families to have more distance learning options. Educators with special medical needs should also have paid sick leave or alternate placements, she said, and districts should continue to provide masks, testing and contact tracing to maintain transmission rates. community at a low level.

Fewer than 10 states still require masks in K-12 schools, though federal guidelines recommend that people in places with outbreaks, and all students, teachers, and school staff, wear masks. masks regardless of their vaccination status. Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon, among other states, have announced plans to lift statewide mask requirements in schools, citing the easing of the push of Omicron.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release new guidelines Friday for when and where people should wear masks, practice social distancing and avoid crowded indoor spaces. According to two federal officials with knowledge of the plans, the guidelines will direct counties to consider three metrics to assess virus risk: new Covid-related hospital admissions in the previous week, percentage of hospital beds occupied by Covid patients and novel coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in the previous week.

“Using the new framework, Maryland is in a great place,” school superintendent Choudhury said Friday afternoon. “We cannot hide our children forever. Now is the right time to do it. »

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