Mask restrictions will remain in place for Webster County Schools despite Governor Andy Beshear’s decision to rescind his recent mask mandate, superintendent Rhonda Callaway confirmed at Monday night’s regular scheduled board meeting.
Beshear withdrew his August 10 mandate on Monday, following a pair of losses in court over the weekend. On Saturday, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that House Bill 1 (HB1), which limits the governor’s power to issue broad sweeping statewide mandates without the consent of the state legislature, was a valid and enforceable law. The bill, passed earlier this year, includes a passage that allows school boards the power to design their own plan to deal with the pandemic without oversight or restrictions from the governor or any other state office.
That Supreme Court ruling came just two days after U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman of Covington ruled on behalf of 20 Campbell County Catholic school families, placing a temporary restraining order against Beshear’s mandate. blocking it from being enforced.
For schools, however, the Governor’s mask mandate wasn’t last stumbling block between them and going maskless. On August 12, just two days after the governor’s mandate, the Kentucky Board of Education issued an emergency regulation requiring masks in all public schools for up to 270 days.
“The state board acted under authority set forth in KRS 156.160 to promulgate administrative regulations necessary or advisable for the protection of the health and welfare of public school students,” Education Commissioner Jason Glass said in a Monday message to Kentucky Schools. “Neither the U.S. District Court nor the Kentucky Supreme Court’s orders are applicable to the KBE regulation, 702 KAR 1:195E.”
On the state level, some have contested that stance, pointing out that HB1 specifically states that no state agency or organization can issue a regulation restricting local board’s ability to design their own plan to deal with the pandemic. However, the bill also requires that any local board plan must meet or exceed the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which currently recommend universal masking while indoors.
The KBE regulation only applies to public schools, meaning private schools are now free to choose their own path. The Diocese of Covington, the district that sparked Thursday’s restraining order, has stated that masks will be optional for their students.
The announcement by Callaway came as a disappointment to several parents who were in attendance on Monday hoping to see the mask requirement lifted.
“I was told that special needs students were to wear masks also,” said Chelsey Wirth. “My daughter is non-verbal. She can’t stand masks. She keeps pulling it off. Is she going to be required to wear a mask all day?”
Kim Saalwaechter, district director of special education and early childhood education, told the board that she had already spoken with Wirth and believed the issue had been settled.
The board did not address her question during Monday’s meeting, but Callway said Saalwaechter would contact Wirth on Tuesday to work out the details.
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