Students and staff in all Kentucky K-12 public and private schools are required to wear a mask under an executive order issued Tuesday by Gov. Andy Beshear and an emergency regulation passed Thursday by the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE).
The executive order
, which will be in effect for at least 30 days, requires face coverings be worn inside school buildings and daycare centers regardless of a person’s vaccination status.
“By today’s actions we are protecting everybody’s kids as well as those who work in both K-12 schools as well as childcare,” Beshear said at a news conference announcing the order
The Kentucky Department for Public Health had previously recommended that districts require masks when schools begin the new year, however Beshear noted that just 44 of Kentucky’s 171 public school districts had implemented mask requirements. Beshear also noted that students under 12 cannot be vaccinated.
“We are to the point where we cannot allow our kids to go into these buildings unprotected, unvaccinated and face this Delta variant,” he said.
Many of the districts that had already implemented mask requirements had recently switched from mask recommendations. In the four days before the statewide mandate, at least 11 districts had pivoted to require masks.
One of those districts, Warren County Schools, had 94 positive students and more than 700 students and staff in quarantine after just three days of school with no mask mandate.
“Generally, what we have seen is an impact that shows if we don’t do this right, vaccinations plus masks, we will not have the in-person learning we all so desperately want and that we need,” Beshear said. “We cannot keep our kids in school if we are unwilling to put on a mask.”
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce also supported the mask mandate as a way to keep Kentucky’s economy moving.
“We looked that the numbers in certain counties and hundreds of students are now quarantined, that means that hundreds of parents are probably not going to be able to go work,” said Ashli Watts, chamber president and CEO.
Several Republican legislative leaders decried Beshear’s order as an affront to local decision-making.
“By issuing another blanket mandate concerning the use of masks in our educational and child care facilities the government is once again proclaiming to Kentuckians that he is above the law,” said Sen. President Robert Stivers. “It is clear that he lacks any respect for local school officials’ decisions to provide the best education possible for their students based on the circumstances in their communities.”
The 2021 General Assembly made several changes to the governor’s emergency powers, however the bills are being challenged in court. On Wednesday, Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to block the school mask mandate.
In the motion to approve the regulation, the board said if and when the Centers for Disease Control and the Kentucky Department of Public Health no longer recommend masks in schools, the board would call a meeting to consider rescinding the regulation.
“I really believe this is a very practical strategy to reduce the number of days that our students, faculty and staff would otherwise have to be in quarantine away from school,” said KBE Chairwoman Lu Young. “Returning students to in-person learning and keeping them there is our priority.”