Maryland’s 24 school systems could soon be relieved of the state’s mask mandate and left to decide for themselves whether to require face coverings in schools.

State leaders took the first step toward local control of masking at schools during a meeting Tuesday of the Maryland State Board of Education, where members voted 12 to 2 for a measure that would start to move in that direction.

There was little discussion about the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has stirred concern among health officials and the Biden administration. Scientists are still studying its level of contagiousness and virulence.

The Maryland measure calls for the drafting of emergency regulations that would create “off ramps” from the mask mandate based on certain local conditions, such as vaccination rates or transmission rates.

The state board will meet again next week to flesh out details, and the measure needs approval from a General Assembly committee.

If it prevails, school systems that met requirements could decide to end mandatory masking or keep it in place. In the D.C. region, the districts in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have not expressed interest in ending mask requirements.

But in some other parts of the state — particularly Carroll County, northwest of Baltimore — some parents and local officials want to lift the mandate.

Maryland education officials have repeatedly said the primary goal for this school year is a safe return to in-person learning with minimal disruption.

On Tuesday, State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury said he did not recommend simply ending the mandate, which expires in late February, but rather to “tie it to smart, research data-based metrics” that set a benchmark for allowing school systems a choice.

Choudhury cited examples from elsewhere in the nation, saying that in Nevada mask requirements were tied to data on transmission rates, while in Massachusetts the key was school vaccination rates of 80 percent or higher.

Board member Vermelle Greene said she thought it best to link it to data on hospitalization rates or similar indicators. “I am not a supporter of wholesale vaccinations for children,” she said, suggesting a lack of information of what “the long-term effects are on these babies.”

The rethinking by the state comes a month after vaccination access was expanded to children ages 5 to 11. Two weeks ago, state officials hosted a lengthy virtual meeting with parents, teachers, students, school board leaders and public health experts.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends indoor mask use at schools for students and staff, regardless of vaccination status.

Board President Clarence Crawford said he is comfortable with local control but noted that one school system had twice rejected advice from its health department on masking, along with guidance from the state and the CDC.

“Sometimes you have to in effect do what is necessary,” he said, “even if doing what is necessary runs counter to what you would like to do individually.”