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Beshear to school boards: Don’t bow to ‘bullying’ on mask mandates

With the state possibly turning a corner in its delta-fueled case surge, school boards could face pressure to end their mask mandates.
Universal masking is required in the vast majority of Kentucky schools. But school boards could...
Universal masking is required in the vast majority of Kentucky schools. But school boards could face increasing pressure to end them, according to Gov. Andy Beshear, and that's his concern going into the fall.(WBTV File)
Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 5:52 PM EDT
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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WXIX) - Days after school districts in Kentucky assumed full control over their own masking policies, the vast majority of those districts have chosen to continue mandates already in place.

But several districts, including Gallatin County Schools in Northern Kentucky, chose against requiring masks. They earned sharp criticism from Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday.

“What we’ve got is at least six school districts where kids are in huge amounts of danger, and the districts don’t have the courage to do the very basics to protect them from a very aggressive disease,” he said.

More generally, the governor warned of pressure campaigns potentially mounted against districts that opted to continue their mandates, many of which premised their decisions on the state’s so-called “Red County Recommendations.”

The recommendations are based on the state’s color-coded incident rate maps, both of which can be found here.

Universal mask mandates are recommended for school districts in counties labeled “red” and “orange.”

Currently, all Kentucky counties but two are labeled red. If and when counties turn orange, those districts could face pressure to remove their mask requirements, Beshear argued.

“We know the way pressure works,” he said. “You will lose districts that are there when we desperately need them to keep masking.”

The governor continued: “It’s unfortunate that the school boards are impacted by so much pressure that’s out there―and attempted bullying that’s out there. But they are. That’s just the reality that we face in this war that we’re in.”

Discretion over mask policies fell to school districts after the General Assembly in a special session passed Senate Bill 1 banning a state mask mandate then in effect from the Kentucky Board of Education.

Beshear lost a legal challenge on his own statewide mask order last month, prompting his call of the special session to reissue an emergency declaration and pass pandemic orders he no longer had legal authority to pass.

The governor had measured praise for the special session on Monday but continued to state his preference for individual executive leadership in a state of emergency.

“To say the General Assembly was successful because most schools require universal masking is like saying they’d be successful if most kids weren’t neglected,” he said.

“[...]When I had the ability, 100 percent of school districts were doing universal masking, because it’s the right call, and I had the courage to make it and not simply hand it over to those who are exposed to significantly more pressure.”

New School Guidance, Test-to-Stay program

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has new guidance out for school districts, including a test-to-stay program.

The new guidance recommends layered protections―a “Swiss cheese” approach”―to reduce COVID transmission in schools to “an acceptable level,” said Beshear.

The test-to-stay program allows districts to avoid large, runaway quarantines.

Unvaccinated students who were wearing masks at the time of a close contact and remain asymptomatic do not need to quarantine as long as they get tested repeatedly for seven days.

The district must require universal masking to qualify for the program. “It can’t work without it,” Beshear said.

Delta in Kentucky

Kentucky COVID-19 cases by week
Kentucky COVID-19 cases by week(Kentucky Department of Public Health)

Data from the Kentucky Department of Public Health appears to show a possible leveling-off of the delta-fueled case surge.

Weekly cases, the positivity rate and current hospitalizations have all shown small declines since mid-August.

Still, a plateau at the current level of cases would be “unsustainable” and would “continue to push our hospitals overcapacity,” Beshear said.

KDPH data show reported cases of COVID-19 are 4.5 times higher among unvaccinated Kentuckians.

The data also show 92 percent of all COVID hospitalizations since March have been unvaccinated Kentuckians.

Vaccinations among Kentuckians as of Sept. 20, 2021
Vaccinations among Kentuckians as of Sept. 20, 2021(Kentucky Department of Public Health)

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