WASHINGTON COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — Students in the Washington County Public School System return to the classroom in less than two weeks. During the latest Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Boyd Michael announced all students and staff must wear a mask while inside the classroom and on the bus. However, the new COVID safety protocols were not well received by everyone.

A group of parents met on Friday in Funkstown, Md. to voice their opinions about the new mandate. The “Patriot Parents” believe students should have the choice to wear a mask as well as receive a COVID vaccine. Furthermore, the parents believe that political topics should be left for parents to teach their children.

“We are not anti-mask and we are not anti-vax,” Kris Detrow explains.

Detrow is a member of the Patriot Parents and her daughter, Leticia, is profoundly deaf. While communicating to her mother using American Sign Language, Leticia explains the mandatory masks will hinder how she learns everyday.

“I do not want them to have masks to force us to have masks, because it is so hard to read the interpreters expressions are not clear,” Leticia signed. “The meanings; are they happy? are they sad? I can’t see their face very well.”

Leticia went on to explain that learning is extremely different for deaf students when compared to other students. She also described how distance learning was not much easier for her during the pandemic. She said her video would often freeze causing her to miss information from her teachers.

“They use the voices to understand. I use expressions and their face,” Leticia signed. “So please don’t force us to use masks.”

Superintendent Michael says the decision to require masks is a result of the county moving into the CDC’s high COVID transmission category. The high transmission rate could put students at risk of a two-week quarantine if they are exposed to the virus.

He explained during the 2019-2020 school year, a student who was within six feet of a student who tested positive for COVID-19 for a cumulative period of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period had to quarantine. Under that rule, it would be nearly impossible for WCPS to avoid mass student quarantines, even with just a small number of cases.

Superintendent Michael says the goal of WCPS is to prevent students from being quarantined for up to two weeks as the period away from school can significantly interrupt the learning environment. However, a new exception in the CDC’s social distancing guidelines for students can preserve the flow of learning in the classroom.

“While the CDC rule remains in effect for adults, there is now an exception for school-age students. Under this exception, if all students are masked, any student who is three feet or more from a student with COVID-19 will not need to be quarantined unless they are symptomatic,” Superintendent Michael explained.

He called the new exception “a game-changer for protecting our learning environment.”

Superintendent Michael says the mask mandate will stay in effect as long as the county remains in the high transmission category and it is his intention for WCPS to return to giving students and staff the option to wear a mask as soon as possible.