ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia lawmakers on Friday gave final approval to a bill that would allow parents to exclude their children from a public school mask mandate, which Gov. Was.
Senate Bill 514 State House 93–52 passed after a debate in which Republicans argued that parents should be able to reject “misguided policies” forcing their children to wear masks, while Democrats argued that this The move would affect a protective measure that may still be needed if COVID-19 resurfaces or another respiratory disease becomes widespread.
The ban will last for five years until June 30, 2027, although lawmakers have acknowledged that a governor can override it if a public health emergency is declared.
Cumming Republican Rep. Lauren McDonald III, who introduced the bill, said, “Parents are the best decision-makers when it comes to the health and education of their children.” “This law ensures that those rights are not violated by misguided policies.”
Democrats said the measure responded to the demands of a noisy minority while sacrificing collective security.
“There is a shared responsibility to do what you can to protect others,” he said. Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Lilburn Democrat with a doctorate in microbiology. “By running out of that responsibility harms others. Public health bills like this create a false and dangerous sense of individualism.”
Several Republican-controlled states banned mask mandates last year, as part of a broader conservative backlash against mandates to curb the spread of the respiratory disease. Georgia lawmakers didn’t take action last year, but the GOP-controlled General Assembly has been more responsive to measures this election year, especially on the grounds that parents should be able to make important decisions about their child’s education.
Masks were never mandatory in many of Georgia’s 180 school districts, and of those that did, nearly all have omitted them since January as COVID-19 cases have fallen. One that still has a mandate is the 52,000-student Clayton County District in the southern suburbs of Atlanta.
On Friday, district spokesman Charles White said that while schools in Clayton County “cannot control the political actions related to this issue,” the district wants to keep its mask mandate unless the county has a high vaccination rate or a pandemic. should not be declared terminated.
Republicans argued that greater communication, especially in young children learning to speak and read, is aided by being able to see one’s mouth. It also argued that the data suggests the virus poses little risk to school children and questions the effectiveness of masks, especially cloth masks.
“Nothing in this bill prevents parents from sending their kids to school in masks that actually work,” said Rep. Mark Newton, an Augusta Republican and emergency room physician.
Democrats, however, warned that without the ability to impose a mask mandate on all students, districts could be forced to suspend in-person learning again.
“This bill should really be named ‘Close Georgia Schools,'” Clark said.