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(Photo: AP)

SNOW HILL, Md.- Masks are optional -- not mandatory -- in Worcester County Public Schools this school year.  Superintendent Lou Taylor notified parents of the plan in a mass robocall Tuesday titled the 'Responsible Return 2.0.' The robocall transcript is on the board's website and reads:  

"Good evening families, this is your Superintendent Lou Taylor, and I have some very important information to share with you in advance of students returning to school next month. 

"Earlier today, we have released our Responsible Return 2.0 plan, which is our school system’s plan to return to school for the upcoming year. This plan is very detailed, but I wanted to take a moment this evening to share those protocols that we have received the most questions about. I also want to remind all of our families that this plan is based on the health and safety information available to us as of today. As circumstances change, this plan may be updated or changed, but we will be sure to communicate with you as any changes occur.

"First, our school spaces will continue to be designed with as much physical distancing as possible in mind. Using guidance from the CDC, students may be physically distanced at least three feet apart in classrooms; however, we are making every effort in all of our classrooms to maintain as much distance as possible in all of our classrooms. In all other areas, a physical distance of 6-feet or more will be observed whenever possible.

"Regarding face coverings, Worcester County Public Schools in conjunction with the CDC highly  recommends universal masking for all teachers, staff, and students in our schools; however, the wearing of face coverings remains optional at this time.

"Additionally, we are continuing our practice of you or your child completing a health screener prior to entering our school buildings each day. This screener – coupled with your support in keeping your child home when sick – has been a critical way for us to keep our schools safe.

"If you would like additional information about what I’ve shared here tonight, please visit our website, www.worcesterk12.org to view tonight’s message and see the plan in its entirety. 

"Thanks for your time tonight. God Bless you and your family, and I look forward to welcoming your child back to school this September!"

 The CDC's website reads that due to the Delta variant, the federal organization recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to k-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. A Worcester County Health Department spokesperson said the department supports the board's decision.  "We definitely support the schools in following those recommendations which of course are always subject to change. You never know where it's going to go with that. But right now, as of 

, the CDC, Maryland Department of Health, they strongly recommend masks, but they don't mandate. So that is definitely a personal choice and just from our end we'll echo that. You should never feel stigmatized to wear a mask absolutely. So, just do the best to take care of yourself," said Travis Brown of the Worcester County Health Department.    Taylor said he will crunch the numbers if the time comes.  "My decision on this right now is I take into consideration that on ya know as I said early in Ocean City on any given weekend you got 300,000 people and I think that's one of the reasons that our statistics are where they are, but we'll continue to monitor that and if it continues to be that into September-October, we're going to take a strong look at those data points and make good decisions hopefully," said Taylor.     Brown said while Worcester County remains among the Maryland counties with the highest number of COVID cases, the county also has some of the highest vaccination rates.  

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