Masks will continue to be worn in Webster County schools, at least while the county and in fact most of the state remains firmly in the red according to the statewide COVID-19 ranking metric, despite a move by state law makers last week to scrap the Kentucky Board of Education’s long term mask mandate.
“We believe that what we currently have in place will allow us to keep our doors open,” said Superintendent Rhonda Callaway. “I’m recommending that we maintain masking.”
Board member James Nance, who has previously said that he supports a mask requirement in local schools, ask that school board members me allowed to vote on the masking measure.
“I would like the board to take the position that the legislation has kicked the can down the road,” he said. “I think this is our responsibility. We need to be responsible.”
Pandemic response plans must be finalized by the end of next week. If board members are to vote on whether or not to require masks, they will have to do so in a special called session that has yet to be scheduled.
In overturning the KBE regulation, legislators deferred to House Bill 1 (HB1), passed earlier this year, which gives local boards of education the authority to design and enact their own response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, law makers stated that the needs of districts in one county could be vastly different than those of a district in another part of the state.
The Republican-dominated legislature set education policies last week in response to disruptions caused by the virus. The masking provisions sparked emotional debate on the third day of the special session called by Democrat Governor Andy Beshear to address the pandemic.
Beshear had issued a similar mandate earlier this year, which was struck down in court as being in violation of HB1 and other bills passed by legislators during the 2021 regular session.
Despite legislators’ decision to strike down the KBE’s mandate, HB1 states all pandemic plans created at the district level to follow the CDC’s guidelines, which currently require masks in schools in a red county.
Senate Bill 1, passed last week, not only reaffirms the authority of local boards of education in matters of the pandemic, it also returns 20 additional non-traditional learning days (remote days) to districts that can be used in the event of a major outbreak or quarantine due to COVID-19.
The bill also creates a new “test-to-stay” program for Kentucky schools. Rather than automatically triggering quarantine for all students and staff involved in a potential exposure event, this would allow both students and employees a chance to be tested for the virus. As long as they test negative each day, they will be allowed to stay in school.
In order to utilize test-to-stay, a district must have a mask requirement in place.
Contact Matt Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-667-2069