By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – While most health officials are advocating for more mask wearing amid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, one north Alabama lawmaker said he is currently drafting a bill that would prohibit any public K-12 school in Alabama from requiring masks.
Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, told Alabama Daily News on Thursday that his bill is not pro or anti-mask but about giving more freedom to parents.
“This bill says that parents should have the right to choose whether or not their child wears a mask in a public school and I believe the parents are more qualified to make that decision than the government,” said Sorrell, who is running for state auditor in 2022.
Currently, there is no state mask requirement for K-12 schools. Gov. Kay Ivey and State Superintendent Eric Mackey have said they would rather let local school boards make that decision.
Sorrell said he agreed to sponsor the bill after being asked by a Huntsville group called “Unmask Our Kids.” Sorrell said the anti-mask group was started by the daughters of Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, after Huntsville City Schools said it will be requiring mask wearing for students.
The bill is modeled after the executive order Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued last Friday. Like the order, Sorrell said his bill would take away certain funding to schools if they did issue a mask mandate.
Sorrell also said he won’t pre-file the bill and instead would like it to be taken up at one of the next possible special sessions that Gov. Kay Ivey is likely to call for later this year.
“If we’re going to do this, we need to do it now,” Sorrell said. “The governor could easily include this in the call of a special session and it wouldn’t cause the taxpayers a penny extra, but I’m going to introduce the bill in a special session whether or not the governor includes it in the call.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended mask wearing for all K-12 students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC is requiring that masks be worn by anyone on public buses, including school buses.
The Alabama Department of Public Health’s official guidance to schools is also recommending universal mask-wearing but said for those schools that don’t require masking, the protocol is to send home students who are exposed to COVID-19 positive classmates.