Education Kentucky Politics

A joint legislative committee labeled the state’s mask mandates for K-12 schools and childcare centers as “deficient” Tuesday, signaling intent from lawmakers to undo the requirements when they return to Frankfort in January.

The administrative regulation review subcommittee voted 5-2 along party lines to mark each mandate as deficient. The vote is largely symbolic, and the mandates will remain in place for now. 

Before the vote on the K-12 mask mandate, the committee gave Kentucky Board of Education chair Lu Young and Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass the opportunity to withdraw or defer the regulation. Both declined.

The votes followed hours of public testimony.

Several Kentucky parents and students spoke in favor of the Kentucky Board of Education’s mask mandate.

Frankfort High School student Audrey Gilbert said she was terrified during her math exams in the spring when she saw classmates with their masks down.

“I would go home after those exams panicking, not about how well I’d done on the test, but worried about whether or not I caught this virus that can hospitalize my immunocompromised mother,” she said.

Oldham County parent Shannon Stocker played a video message from her 12-year-old daughter Cassidy Stocker, who is undergoing chemotherapy for brain cancer and has a compromised immune system.

“[COVID] could end my life, and that scares me. That really scares [me],” she said.

“No one’s choice to wear a mask is more important than my child’s right to live,” Stocker’s mother told the committee.

Polling suggests a majority of American parents support requiring masks in schools. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation this summer found 63% of parents of teenagers think schools should require unvaccinated students to wear masks. Many peer-reviewed studies show masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. According to a May 2021 science brief compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, multi-layer cloth masks block most large droplets that carry the virus, and 50-70% of fine droplets and particles that carry the virus.

Still a number of parents and other speakers took issue with masks, saying they don’t believe they work, and they impinge on their personal freedoms.

“Mask choice adheres to the principles of liberty,” Bullitt County father Christopher Henning told the committee. Henning recently announced a bid for the Republican nomination in the race to represent Kentucky’s 2nd District in Congress.

“I find it shameful—just shameful—that we cannot follow our founding documents,” he said. 

Another mask opponent, Chuck Thurston, who called himself a doctor “with more degrees than a thermometer,” claimed all his patients who died wore masks. Thurston, who has an active medical license on file in Ohio, also claims to have contracted COVID-19 and healed himself with Christian prayer and hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug falsely touted as a COVID-19 treatment by former President Donald Trump. A study from the National Institutes of Health found the drug offered no benefits to hospitalized COVID patients. The FDA later warned of health risks associated with taking hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.

The Republican lawmakers who voted to mark the mask mandates deficient said they were protecting the authority of local school boards and superintendents.

“They are the ones, in my view, that needs to be making that choice, or that decision, and not the unelected board here in Frankfort that was appointed by Gov. Beshear,” Wellington Republican Rep. David Hale said.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) said he also takes issue with the age range the mandate applies to. The regulation follows CDC guidance in mandating masks down to age two. Alvarado noted that the World Health Organization doesn’t recommend requiring masks until age 6.

“I really think down to age two, I just don’t know if that’s appropriate down to that age range,” Alvarado said.

The same committee found Gov. Andy Beshear’s previous mask mandate deficient, three days before it was set to expire.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.