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Montgomery County Public Schools said Saturday the school board is “anticipated” to vote in favor of removing a mask mandate at a meeting on March 8.

Although the outcome of the vote isn’t definite, one board member says she and another board member discussed the idea of putting out the message to give the community advance notice.

On Friday, a state legislative committee voted to allow local school districts to decide whether to require masking in schools and to have school districts set standards for mask use. That vote followed a 12-2 vote by the State Board of Education on Tuesday to rescind its indoor mask mandate for schools.

COVID-19 cases in Montgomery County have been decreasing steadily for several weeks since mid-January. The county government’s indoor mask mandate ended at 11:59 p.m. last Monday.

The MCPS statement on Saturday says the anticipated March 8 vote is based on the state legislative committee’s vote on Friday, the lifting of the county mask mandate and updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC on Friday issued new guidance that recommends indoor mask use for people in counties where COVID-19 risk is high, but masks do not have to be used in counties — including in schools — where the risk is low. The CDC considers Montgomery County to be a “low” county.

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As recently as Thursday, school board members appeared divided on the question of whether to end the MCPS mask mandate. Members Rebecca Smondrowski and Karla Silvestre said at a board member on Thursday that they’re in favor of lifting the mandate, while student board member Hana O’Looney expressed opposition.

Board Member Lynne Harris said at that meeting that she wanted to review countywide COVID-19 data when the board meets again on March 8, which would be about two weeks after Montgomery County’s indoor mask mandate was lifted.

Board members Scott Joftus, Brenda Wolff and Shebra Evans did not comment during the meeting. Board member Judy Docca was absent.

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Harris said in an interview on Saturday that she talked with Joftus on Friday night about putting out an advance notice to the community in anticipation of the expected vote on March 8. Other board members agreed that it was a good idea, she said.

“The superintendent thought it was a good idea and so they quickly jumped on it,” she said.

The goal of Saturday’s message, Harris said, is to improve MCPS’s communication and transparency.

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“One of the things that we’ve not done a good job of all along is being transparent continuously,” she said. “And so I think we heard a lot from the community that if we were gonna change direction, they wanted notice. And this is just an attempt, I think … at making people aware of the change in advice and guidance.”

Harris on Saturday reiterated her stance that she wants to continue to see the case numbers decline in the county.

“For me, I will be watching our numbers closely, and for me, if we stay in the new CDC low-risk designation … if we see a steady decline in our case numbers, we should be in the moderate range, and if I see those numbers going down every day, than I will support [ending] it,” she said.

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“I think it’s likely, and I think it would be hard for the system to mandate masking when basically nobody else is recommending that as a public health measure right now.”

Several county school districts in Maryland have switched to making mask use optional, including Frederick, Anne Arundel and Howard.

Harris said that ideally, she’d like to see two weeks of data from Montgomery County following the end of the county mask mandate last week.

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Board President Brenda Wolff said in an interview on Saturday that the board members haven’t discussed how they will vote with each other, but she thinks it’s likely the board will vote to end the mandate on March 8.

“The General Assembly has lifted the mask mandate, the CDC has revised its guidance, and unless there’s a spike in the community, that’s what I’m expecting. Will it be a unanimous vote? I don’t know. Maybe not. But I do believe it will be a majority vote,” she said.

Wolff said Saturday that she personally will vote to end the mask mandate on March 8. She felt that way last week, but said she didn’t want to make her stance known prior to the vote from the legislative committee on Friday.

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Wolff said Saturday’s message is important in getting the word out to the public about the March 8 vote.

“I think what we did was [we] gave the public notice that we’re thinking this way, and it gives you the opportunity to come and hear the discussion,” she said.

In a separate text message, Wolff wrote: “It is important to let the community know we hear their voices…”

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“We know this conversation is important. We also know there are differences of opinion and as the board we hear that too but with all the recent decisions at the federal, state and local level concerning mask mandates … now is the time to reassure the community we will act,” she wrote.

Silvestre told Bethesda Beat on Saturday that putting out the advance notice helps raise awareness about the CDC changing its guidance.

“Not everyone’s reading every news article that comes out that the CDC has changed their recommendations for schools, and so I don’t want everyone to be surprised, and I want people to know why the CDC thinks it’s safe to go mask optional,” she said. “And so I think this gives people a week to digest that and make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”

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Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com