MCPS lifts indoor mask mandate


Photo courtesy Sonya Rashkovan

The Board of Education voted to remove MCPS’ indoor mask mandate.

By Sonya Rashkovan

Some students’ names have been withheld to honor wishes for privacy.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to lift the school district’s indoor mask mandate today. 

The masks will be optional inside all MCPS facilities, as well as school buses, effective immediately. The mask mandate has been in place since some students returned to in-person learning in March 2021. 

Two Board members, District 2 representative Rebecca Smondrowski and Board Vice President Karla Silvestre, removed their masks almost immediately after the resolution passed. Both of them advocated heavily for lifting the mask mandate.

“I recognize and I appreciate that for a lot of people this will seem like a big step, but unless you’re only going to school and staying home, we’ve kind of already taken that step,” Smondrowski said. “So I’m hopeful that it’ll be a nice, easy, smooth transition for not just our students but our staff.”

The CDC in February rescinded their long-standing recommendation that there be in-school mask mandates for communities with minimal COVID-19 spread. MCPS students have one of the country’s highest vaccination rates, and Montgomery County currently has its lowest number of reported coronavirus cases since August 2021.

However, some Whitman students are concerned that coronavirus cases may spread quicker without an in-school mask mandate. In an informal Black & White survey of 55 students taken in the days before today’s Board meeting, 25 said they didn’t feel comfortable with the removal of the mask mandate. Only 19 said they planned to stop wearing a mask to school.

“While it’s true that COVID-19 case rates have dropped significantly and MCPS has a high vaccination coverage, there is still a lot of uncertainty,” one student said.

Student Member of the Board Hana O’Looney advocated for keeping the mask mandate, though she couldn’t cast her vote today due to a schedule conflict. O’Looney believes that masks can make students feel safer at school, she said. 

“The majority of students that I talked to seem to be in favor of keeping the mask mandate because my mask not only keeps myself safe but also the others around me safe,” O’Looney said. “I never want schools to be a place where students feel anxious, or they feel like they’re bringing a sickness home to their families.” 

Mask mandates have garnered controversy throughout the country, including in Montgomery County. During the February 24 Board meeting, O’Looney voiced her support of maintaining the mask mandate in MCPS. A video clip of her testimony spread through Twitter accounts, and she was subject to cyberbullying — some of which was unrelated to the mask mandate, targeting her race, political views and family — that forced her to take down her Twitter account. 

“It became a discussion that was completely up-ended and unrelated to the original discussion about masks,” O’Looney said. “When people are angry, it brings out the worst in them.”

Following the controversy, Superintendent Monifa McKnight emphasized the importance of community members’ respect for others’ choice as to whether to wear a mask. McKnight also announced today that MCPS will be launching a campaign to “promote respect” for students’ personal decisions.

“Every opinion in every circumstance that we’ve heard about is one that we will value and we absolutely empathize [with],” McKnight said. “I do think it’s important for me to reiterate and for us to continue to model that there has to be respectful, respectful dialogue around this issue.”

Board At-Large member Lynne Harris said at the board meeting that while MCPS’ mask-related policy is changing, it’s imperative that the school district continue implementing practices that work for all community members during the pandemic.

“I hope as we’re sending out messaging to make sure that nobody is bullied for their choice, and everybody’s supported and making the choice that’s right for them in their circumstances,” Harris said.