Kentucky’s public school students could be in masks for the next nine months under an emergency regulation approved on Thursday by the state Board of Education in a special meeting.
The measure keeps universal masking in place for up to 270 days, although it can be withdrawn if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Kentucky Department for Public Health relaxes recommendations for schools.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is a non-voting member, told the board of education she supports local decision-making, but added COVID-19 is a national health crisis.
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“We have kids right now who are on ventilators in hospitals and being quarantined, which means they can’t go to school,” Coleman said. “I’m just going to be very honest with you. Failing to implement a mask requirement, in my opinion, is negligent.”
Coleman also serves as Secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. She said as hospitalizations among children have tripled in recent weeks nationally, the board’s decision will help protect students.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass emphasized the mandate could be lifted early, adding as COVID-19 conditions shift, so should requirements.
“It’s not the intent of this board, or the department, or me to keep kids in masks for nine months,” explained Glass. “No one wants that.”
The board’s action follows an executive order by Governor Beshear mandating masks in K-12 schools, as well as in pre-schools and child care facilities. Beshear’s order is effective for 30 days, but could be extended.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron challenged Beshear’s move in a filing Wednesday with the Kentucky Supreme Court. Justices are currently considering the extent of the governor’s power to issue new emergency orders related to the pandemic.
As cases of COVID-19 surge among children, the vaccine isn’t approved in those younger than 12, meaning about half of Kentucky students are unprotected against the virus. Also, less than 34 percent of the state’s eligible children between ages 12 and 17 have received their first dose of a vaccine.
Health experts say masking can reduce how often students and staff have to quarantine, which will help keep students in class five days a week for in-person learning.