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State BOE: Masking requirement decisions should be made at local level

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama State Board of Education on Thursday approved a resolution supporting local school systems’ ability to make decisions related to COVID-19 protocols, including masking requirements. 

Meanwhile, there will be at least two bills in the upcoming legislative session prohibiting mask mandates or letting parents opt out of them.

Approved unanimously by the state board, including board leader Gov. Kay Ivey, the resolution says the board believes local school systems are in the best position to make informed decisions on what is best for their community and that “certain matters of health and safety policy should be reserved for LEAs to determine.”

“… the ALSBOE affirms that certain decisions regarding highly specialized actions and policies, including but not limited to, the use of facial coverings, spacing of desks, arrangements of cafeteria and sports seating, and other factors related to students’ health and safety, should continue to be made at the LEA level based on the best interest of the students in each individual community.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, Ivey and State Superintendent Eric Mackey have said they would rather let local school boards make masking decisions.

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollinger’s Island, pre-filed for the upcoming session a bill to allow parents and guardians to opt their children out of schools’ mask requirements. 

On Thursday, Brown told ADN he appreciates the board’s stance because he would rather masking decisions be made at the local level rather than the state level.

“But I see this parental issue,” Brown said. “It’s about who controls our children’s health care and I think parents should have a voice in that.”

While fewer schools are requiring masks now than previous points in the pandemic, Brown said the requirements could return. Huntsville City Schools last month said it would require masks in the spring semester if there is high community transmission of COVID-19.

Brown’s bill is modeled after a governor’s executive order in Tennessee. Lawsuits were filed over that order and it was blocked in several counties.

Brown said he’s heard from parents around the state who want input on mask decisions for their children.

“I thought this (bill) was the best way to go,” he said.

Thursday, Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, said he will file in 2022 the same anti-mask mandate bill he sponsored during a special session earlier this year. It prohibits mask mandates in K-12 schools. Sorrell at the time said his bill was 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.

His bill would have decreased state funding for schools that required masks.

The legislative session begins Jan. 11.

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