The Kentucky Board of Education has unanimously passed an emergency regulation requiring students, staff and visitors to wear masks at schools as the coronavirus continues to spread across the state.
The masking policy will last for 270 days—most of the school year—unless coronavirus conditions improve and the board rescinds or modifies it.
The move overlaps with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s statewide school mask mandate announced two days earlier. That executive order will last for 30 days, unless renewed by the governor.
Beshear’s order has already been challenged by Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and the governor’s emergency powers hang in the balance of a state Supreme Court case.
Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young voted in favor of creating the mandate, saying it would allow students to keep learning in person.
“This is a very practical strategy to reduce the number of days that our students and faculty and staff would otherwise have to be in quarantine, away from school,” Young said.
Under the new masking policy, a special meeting of the board would be triggered to consider making changes to the mandate if state or federal officials change masking recommendations.
Lee Todd, a board member and former University of Kentucky president, said “it’s time for us to lock our jaws and do what we have to do” to defeat the virus.
“We are essentially at war with this virus. It’s just taken over the country. And when you have something like that, a complex problem, you’ve got to gang up on it, you’ve got to use all the utilities you have that are proven or are known,” Todd said.
Beshear initially encouraged local districts to issue their own mask mandates, but instituted a statewide mandate earlier this week after nearly two-thirds of districts planned to start the school year without masking requirements.
Republicans have criticized the policy and some local superintendents have defied it.
Marshall County Schools Superintendent Steve Miracle has said the district will not discipline students who don’t wear masks and that he is creating a plan to sidestep the mandate, according to WKMS.
Science Hill Independent Schools Superintendent Jimmy Dyehouse sent out an audio message to parents calling Beshear a “liberal lunatic” and criticizing the governor for preempting the local school board’s decision to not require masks, according to the Herald Leader.
Earlier in the day, Kentucky Department of Education officials presented the proposed mandate to an advisory panel of school superintendents around the state.
Russ Tilford, superintendent of Lyon County Schools, said he supports Beshear’s current order, but he wants masking decisions to be left up to local policymakers.
“For my community, it’s still not a major issue at this moment. Not to say that it won’t be next week or even later today. But I think local leadership needs to be able to make that decision based on what we’re seeing,” Tilford said.
As of Wednesday, Lyon County was one of 14 counties across the state that aren’t considered to have a “critical” incidence rate of coronavirus.
But the virus has been surging in Kentucky this month. On Wednesday, the state reported 2,961 new cases of coronavirus—the largest tally since Jan. 23—and an 11% positivity rate.
David Cox, superintendent of Corbin Independent Schools, also advocated for districts having more control over masking regulations, saying he’s had “numerous calls from parents that are taking their kids to homeschool.”
“I guess committing to a 270-day mask mandate with the hope that it be rescinded by the CDC is not real compelling at this point in my community,” Cox said.