masks

Metro Nashville Public Schools

Governor Bill Lee has announced he will extend his executive order that allows kids to not follow mask mandates. The move comes after federal judges have made the governor’s order ineffective in three counties, citing the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Federal judges in Shelby, Knox and Williamson Counties have so far signaled that the governor’s order allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates is unconstitutional. The order was set to expire next week, but the governor announced he will extend it 30 more days.

“I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the rulings from federal judges who’ve chosen to legislate from the bench,” Lee said Thursday. “I’ve been in full support of the attorney general as we defend the law in this state.”

The lawsuits are from families who have children with disabilities. They argue the opt-out provision puts their kids at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

J. Tyler Franklin

Masking requirements are staying in place for many Kentucky school districts, despite the General Assembly revoking a statewide mask mandate for school systems during a special legislative session last week.

Warren County Public Schools implemented a mask policy on Aug. 11 before Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order or the Kentucky Department of Education’s emergency regulation. The decision was legal under the school district’s authority, and is not affected by the General Assembly’s passage of SB 1, which returned the authrority to make masking decisions to local school boards.

In a special meeting Tuesday night, the Warren County Board of Education approved a recommendation from Superintendent Rob Clayton to extend the school system's univeral mask requirement through at least October.

“This will allow us the opportunity to monitor exposures related to fall break activities as our historical data reflects the increase in exposures and quarantines after extended breaks from school," Clayton said.


J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky state lawmakers have passed a GOP bill that ends the statewide mask mandates for public schools and child care centers. 

Public health experts, including the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, say universal masking should be required in K-12 settings to curb the spread of COVID-19. But Republicans are siding with some conservatives who say mask mandates infringe on their First Amendment rights. Senate education committee chair Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville, said the bill gives decisions on masking to local school districts.

“They make that decision of what they think is best for their constituents and their communities,” Wise said.

A WFPL survey found nearly two-thirds of Kentucky school districts planned to keep masks optional before statewide mandates went into effect.

Democrats in both chambers balked at Republicans’ assertions they were protecting local control.

Wilson County Schools

Wilson County Schools will be enforcing a temporary mask mandate for students, staff and visitors starting Friday. The district will also begin to follow the state health department’s quarantine guidelines, specifically to send unvaccinated students home if they were exposed to COVID, even if they show no symptoms.

“I can’t sit and be quiet no longer,” superintendent Jeff Luttrell said at a school board meeting on Wednesday. “We got some problems and we need to take stronger measures in our schools.”

The new protocol comes after the district went under a weeklong closure due to a high number of cases. The school board voted unanimously in favor of both health measures despite disagreeing on these issues in weeks prior.

“I don’t love it, but I think we asked both sides for a compromise and I think that this is a compromise,” school board member Jamie Farough said.

Ryland Barton

A Republican-led committee of state senators gave the greenlight Tuesday to a bill that would end statewide mask mandates for public schools and childcare centers. 

Supporters of the measure say it should be up to individual school districts and parents whether to send children to school in a mask. Opponents, including Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, point to guidance from health experts that universal masking is needed to curb the rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.

The proposal is part of a larger education-related bill lawmakers are considering during a special legislative session to respond to the pandemic. Gov. Andy Beshear called the session after a state supreme court decision stripped many emergency powers from the Democratic governor and put them in the hands of the Republican-led legislature. 

The proposed legislation, known as Senate Bill 1, would end the Kentucky Department of Public Health’s mask requirement for childcare centers, as well as the Kentucky Department of Education’s mask mandate for K-12 public schools. School districts would have five days from the bill’s effective date to craft their own mask mandates, if they wish.

The Department of Education is preparing its Office of Civil Rights to investigate schools that have blocked school mask mandates and other efforts to try to keep students and educators safe from COVID-19.

Republican-led states like Florida and Texas have imposed rules that say school districts can't impose mask mandates; the Department of Education argues that this could lead to discrimination against some students who cannot attend school because it becomes unsafe for their health.

Stephanie Wolf

The Kentucky Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a lower court shouldn’t have blocked new laws that limit Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers during the pandemic. The order is not an overall ruling on their constitutionality, though.

Beshear filed a lawsuit in February after the state legislature passed several measures limiting his emergency powers, including a bill restricting the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature, and one allowing businesses and schools to ignore state emergency regulations as long as they follow CDC guidelines.

The state Supreme Court heard arguments over the case earlier this summer.

The decision means Beshear’s challenge to those laws will go back to Franklin Circuit Court, with an order for the lower court to no longer block the laws from going into effect. The court had put a temporary injunction on the laws.

Sumner County Schools/via Facebook

Tennessee may risk federal civil rights inquiries if the state continues on its current track, allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates for no reason at all. The U.S. Department of Education has put eight states on notice that their current guidelines conflict with federal policy meant to offer a safe, in-person learning environment.

In a memo, Secretary Miguel Cardona says his department may “initiate a directed investigation if facts indicate a potential violation of the rights of students as a result of state policies and actions.” He says the department will also respond to complaints from parents of students “who may experience discrimination as a result of states not allowing local school districts to reduce virus transmission risk through masking requirements and other mitigation measures.”

Facebook/Warren County Public Schools

A federal judge temporarily blocked Gov. Andy Beshear’s mask mandate for K-12 schools Thursday, saying the executive order violates laws passed by the General Assembly this spring that limited the governor’s emergency powers. 

“The Executive Branch cannot simply ignore laws passed by the duly-elected representatives of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Therein lies tyranny,” Judge William Bertelsman wrote in his opinion.

The ruling means private schools will not have to require masks. However, a separate mask mandate from the Kentucky Department of Education means masks are still required in public schools.

Bertelsman sided with two Northern Kentucky parents, Jason and Karen Oswald, whose children attend St. Joseph Elementary School, a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Covington. The Oswalds claim Beshear violated their First Amendment right to freedom of religion when he instituted the mandate.

Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

A joint legislative committee labeled the state’s mask mandates for K-12 schools and childcare centers as “deficient” Tuesday, signaling intent from lawmakers to undo the requirements when they return to Frankfort in January.

The administrative regulation review subcommittee voted 5-2 along party lines to mark each mandate as deficient. The vote is largely symbolic, and the mandates will remain in place for now. 

Before the vote on the K-12 mask mandate, the committee gave Kentucky Board of Education chair Lu Young and Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass the opportunity to withdraw or defer the regulation. Both declined.

The votes followed hours of public testimony.

Ryland Barton

A Republican lawmaker has filed a bill to ban mask mandates at Kentucky public schools and universities as the coronavirus continues to surge across the state and nation.

The proposal, filed Monday, comes days after the Kentucky Board of Education passed an emergency regulation requiring students, staff and visitors to wear masks in K-12 schools. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear issued his own executive order mandating masks in schools last week.

All of Kentucky’s public colleges and universities are requiring students and staff to wear masks indoors and urging people to get vaccinated.

Rep. Lynn Bechler, a Republican from Marion and sponsor of the bill, didn’t return requests for comment on Tuesday.

TN Photo Services (File)

Gov. Bill Lee is requiring schools to allow exemptions to mask mandates. He signed a new executive order Monday authorizing parents to opt out, without needing to give a reason.

Departing from federal health guidance, Lee said masks should be optional.

“They’re protective and if parents want their child to be protected in that way, then they should do so. And if a parent believes that that’s not best for their kid because of other reasons, then they should have the ability to make that decision for the health of their children,” Lee said.

The governor’s order is meant to be a compromise with House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who requested a special session meant to restrict local COVID rules.

Corrine Boyer

Republicans are criticizing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s school mask mandate as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the state and kids are returning to school.

Beshear issued an executive order on Tuesday requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in Kentucky public schools.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is challenging Beshear’s actions. He filed a motion with the Kentucky Supreme Court arguing the governor’s order ignores new laws passed by the legislature that limit his emergency powers.

“The Governor does not have to choose between following the science and following the law,” Cameron wrote in a statement. “The two can and should work together. If he believes that the science requires a statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers, then he needs to do what the law requires and work with the General Assembly to put the necessary health precautions in place.”

Stephanie Wolf

Gov. Andy Beshear says he’s signing a new executive order Tuesday that will require all students, staff and visitors at K-12 schools and preschools to wear a mask. 

The order will apply to both private and public schools, for everyone aged two and up.

“I’m gonna have the courage to do what I know is right,” Beshear said during Tuesday’s press briefing. “This is how we make sure we protect our children, but this is also how we make sure that they stay in school.”

In defending his decision, the governor pointed to rising hospitalizations due to the delta variant of COVID-19. Experts say the delta variant is causing more infection among children than the original COVID-19 virus and some children have ended up in the ICU. He also noted that several districts that started the school year without mandates have already had to institute mass quarantines.

Jess Clark | WFPL

This week, a wave of Kentucky school districts have announced they are making masks mandatory for all students and staff in indoor settings, a shift from previous plans that called for a recommendation only. The pivot comes amid a statewide surge of COVID-19 cases, including among school-aged children.

Local officials in Oldham County Schools, Jessamine County Schools, Warren County Public Schools, Marion County Public Schools and Bullitt County Public Schools all announced Monday or Tuesday that masks would be mandatory, rather than recommended, in their buildings.

“It was difficult,” Bullitt County Board of Education chair Debby Atherton said of the decision, noting some parents called her upset to say they want to have a choice of whether or not to mask their child. Mask mandates have become highly politicized, with some conservatives saying they are an affront to their personal freedom.

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