US Kentucky lawmakers scrap statewide mask mandate in schools
Pennsylvania Issues School Mask Mandate After Parents Sue School District Without One
Less than a month ago, Governor Tom Wolf had rejected mask mandates for schools, although they had been required last year. The governor has now changed course as the highly contagious Delta variant threatens students and teachers alike, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending masks for students, staff and teachers. The issue of masks in classrooms has been highly contended, with parents at school board meetings arguing in favor and against them. Pennsylvania's two statewide teachers unions urged K-12 schools to require masks. For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers, many not wearing masks, voted Thursday to scrap a statewide mask mandate in public schools and shifted masking decisions to local school boards, acting in a special session as the state's worst COVID-19 surge threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
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The GOP-dominated legislature set education policies in response to disruptions caused by the virus, which has forced dozens of districts to close classrooms. The masking provisions sparked emotional debate on the third day of the special session called by the Democratic governor to address the pandemic.
The bill goes to Gov. Andy Beshear, who previously issued statewide mask mandates to slow the spread of COVID-19 and recently said he thought another mask order was needed to confront the current surge. Republicans have enough votes to override any Beshear veto.
The special session marked a power shift in the state’s response to the virus. Throughout the pandemic, Beshear acted unilaterally in setting statewide virus policies, saying his actions saved lives. Republicans criticized him for what they branded as overly broad and stringent restrictions.
Florida school mask mandate power struggle goes before judge
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida's power struggle over wearing masks in school to guard against coronavirus infections landed Monday before a judge considering a lawsuit that challenges Gov. Ron DeSantis' order reserving the mask decision for parents. The three-day hearing before Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper pits pro-mask parents against the Republican governor and state education officials who say parents, not schools, should choose whether their children cover up inside schools.
The special session comes as Kentucky's hospitals struggle with a record influx of virus cases. Beshear warned Thursday thatwere available statewide — a pandemic low. He noted nearly two-thirds of Kentucky's hospitals face critical staffing shortages, and more than 300 Kentucky National Guard members will be headed to 21 hospitals to assist overworked health care workers.
"Our hospital situation has never been more dire in my lifetime than it is right now,” Beshear said.
Working into the night, Republican lawmakers asserted their newfound dominance in shaping Kentucky's pandemic policies — the result of a state Supreme Court ruling last month. The court cleared the way for laws to take effect limiting the governor’s emergency powers to impose virus restrictions. The justices said a lower court wrongly blocked the GOP-backed measures. The governor responded by calling the legislature into session.
School mask, vaccine mandates supported in US: AP-NORC poll
BOSTON (AP) — As COVID-19 cases surge around the country, a majority of Americans say they support mask mandates for students and teachers in K-12 schools, according to a new poll, but their views are sharply divided along political lines. About 6 in 10 Americans say students and teachers should be required to wear face masks while in school, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Similar shares say teachers and eligible students should also be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2021, file photo, California Gov.
The school-related bill that won final passage would nullify the state school board’s requirement that anyone in public K-12 schools wear a mask. It also would end a separate state mask mandate for child-care centers.
Video: Kentucky Governor issues school mask mandate as hospitalization rate doubles (The Independent)
Another bill winning final passage Thursday night would impose a prolonged ban on any statewide mask mandate, leaving masking decisions up to local governments and businesses. It was part of a broad measure addressing medical staffing, vaccines, tests and treatments related to COVID-19.
The legislature also passed a measure to appropriate more than $69 million in federal funds for pandemic-related efforts. The funds are aimed at increasing COVID-19 testing for health care providers, schools, health departments and correctional facilities, as well as to assist monoclonal antibody treatment providers.
During debate on the schools bill, supporters said mask decisions are best left to local boards, to reflect the will of their communities.
Like Florida, Texas' Largest School Districts Defiant Over State's Mask Mandate Ban
"There is lots of evidence that supports masking and there is no evidence that it causes any harm," pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Jessica Snowden said.Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, are defying Governor Greg Abbott's mask mandate ban in favor of keeping students and parents "safe." Abbott, who tested positive for the virus this week, is fighting the school districts in court and they aren't budging. The court ruled Thursday that the districts can have a mask mandate until the legal battle is resolved.
“This bill will give local control back to the districts — not mandating they do, not mandating they don't," said Republican Sen. Max Wise, the bill's sponsor. "They make the decision of what they think is best for their constituents in their communities.”
Opponents warned that lifting the mask mandate would put children and school staffs at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. By putting the burden on school boards to decide mask policies, Democratic Sen. Karen Berg said the legislature was abdicating its responsibility.
“I think you are asking for fights in school board meetings, where parents are going to be intimidated, where school board members are going to be intimidated,” Berg said.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the chamber's top-ranking Democrat, said removing blanket masking protections comes when the delta variant is infecting more young Kentuckians. More than 300,000 Kentucky students aren't old enough to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, he said.
“This bill ... is really a life-and-death bill,” Democratic Sen. Reggie Thomas said. “If we eliminate mask mandates, then we are putting all children and all school personnel at severe risk.”
In the House, Democratic Rep. Pamela Stevenson warned the virus is so pervasive that the lack of masking requirements in schools would mean that children are going "into the lion's den.”
Republican Rep. John Blanton countered that the bill removes a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
“We are not taking masks away from your children today,” he said. “Masks are still part of the tools that's provided for each and every school district across this state.”
Beshear had asked legislators to give him authority to, at a minimum, require masking when COVID-19 infection rates reach high levels.
The school measure would give districts more scheduling flexibility to cope with virus outbreaks. It would allow local school leaders to limit remote instruction to a particular school, grade or classroom — depending on the extent of the outbreak — instead of closing the entire district. The overriding goal is to keep children in class when possible, Wise said.
“What we're looking to do here is a fair and flexible method that superintendents can get behind,” Wise said.
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