Louisiana Senate leaders want local school districts to decide K-12 mask mandate

Governor’s current statewide mask mandate applies to all public schools

By: - August 12, 2021 5:28 pm
Senate leaders want school districts to decide masking

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Louisiana’s top two Senate leaders want local school districts to decide whether face masks will be required in K-12 schools — not the governor of Louisiana.

Senate President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) and President Pro Tempore Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton) sent a letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday asking that he rescind his statewide indoor mask mandate as it applies to schools. 

“Our request is that you allow the decision for students and masks to be made by local districts under the guidance of the State Superintendent of Education,” the one-page letter stated.

Cortez and Mizell said they were sending the letter because senators had received “numerous calls and emails” from constituents who were worried about their children having to wear masks in schools. The letter emphasized that school districts would be expected to listen to the governor’s advice on masking. 

Edwards, a Democrat, responded on Wednesday with his own three-page letter, explaining that his initial policy was to let the school districts decide on their own masking requirements, writing, “As we approached this school year, I was in support of that very position. However, as we have seen throughout this pandemic, the facts have changed in two significant ways.”

The governor continued: “First, the Delta variant is surging exponentially…we have added almost 1,000 people to Louisiana hospitals with COVID-19 and have lost almost 300 Louisianans to COVID-19 in the nine days that have passed since that [Aug. 2] press conference.”

“Secondly, at the time I issued the order, only five school districts in the state had made the hard decision to require masks for the safety of their students for this school year, while the other districts were simply recommending that students wear masks,” Edwards wrote. He concluded by writing that his statewide mask mandate aligns with the “universal recommendation of the public health experts and doctors on the frontline of this pandemic.”

A group of Louisiana House Republicans wrote a similar letter to the governor Monday, but Cortez and Mizell’s letter carries more political weight. Cortez is the most powerful member of the Louisiana Legislature — and has so far been reluctant to challenge the governor’s authority to impose mask mandates and other restrictions during the COVID-19 health emergency. 

Both letters come the week before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is expected to discuss school masking requirements. State Education Superintendent Cade Brumley has not said whether he supports a statewide mask mandate, but his prior position was to leave the decision to the local school districts. 

Attorney General Jeff Landry has also fought Edwards’ mask mandate, especially as it pertains to K-12 schools

The governor reinstated the statewide mask mandate for almost all indoor places — not just schools — on Aug. 2 after health officials and hospitals from across the state pleaded for statewide mitigation measures to help slow the surging Delta-variant coronavirus that has pushed hospital capacity to the brink of collapse and has infected a larger percentage of children than any other strain of COVID-19.

Staff writer Julie O’Donoghue contributed to this report. 

Senators want school districts decide masking
Governor responds Senators want school districts to decide masking

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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