Prince George’s County Public Schools will head into the upcoming school year with a mask-optional policy.
The new policy for Prince George’s went into effect July 1. The updated Students Rights and Responsibilities Handbook addressing the policy change reads: “The mask-optional policy enables individuals to choose whether to wear a mask in schools and offices. This decision is personal; students and staff are asked to respect the choices of others.” Parents were also notified in a newsletter the following week.
The decision comes as some school systems have considered reviving their mask mandates as coronavirus variants have led to rising case numbers.
The school system had kept the mandate in place and was not planning to lift it until the county’s vaccination rate reached 80 percent, system leaders said previously. The vaccination rate in the county for residents 5 and older is 81.5 percent, according to state health department data. The fully vaccinated rate increases to 85.7 percent for residents 12 and older.
WTOP was the first to report on the policy change.
Juanita Miller, chair of the county’s school board, directed questions about the new policy to CEO Monica Goldson, who is in charge of day-to-day operations for the school system. Miller said the board of education hadn’t discussed the issue yet, since it has been on break since early July. She said that she personally hasn’t received a lot of feedback from community members yet on the issue.
Prince George’s has taken the most cautious approach to combating the virus among school systems across the D.C. region. The county was severely affected by the virus, with the second-most reported deaths in Maryland. It was the last school system in the state to return to in-person instruction.
This year, when the omicron variant hit regional schools hard, Prince George’s chose to extend its winter break beyond any other school system’s to slow the spread of the virus. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the State Board of Education weighed in on the move, but school system leaders argued that the extension was critical after consulting with the local health department.
The new policy notes that mask-wearing rules could change based on guidance from local or state health officials, or if there is additional guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.