It has been said that “all politics is local,” and we believe it’s best to keep important decisions in local hands on certain issues.
That’s why we applaud the Kentucky General Assembly for its recent decision to scrap a statewide mask mandate in public schools and shift masking decisions to local school boards.
Acting in a Frankfort special session called by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who had imposed statewide mask mandates and other statewide regulations amid the COVID pandemic, the Republican-run House and Senate quickly overrode his veto of their sweeping schools legislation and correctly returned control where it belongs – the local level.
Too many times in Frankfort, lawmakers and other leaders have quickly settled on the easy, one-size-fits-all approach to various issues. What’s best for Pikeville and Ashland must also be perfect for Bowling Green and Owensboro, state officials’ actions have said at times.
All the while, what has been too often ignored is that cities and counties can have vastly different situations and needs. And no one knows local needs more than local boards.
In a long-awaited development, during debate on the schools bill in Frankfort, supporters correctly insisted mask decisions are best left to local boards, to reflect the will of their communities.
The resulting bill nullified a statewide requirement that anyone in public K-12 schools wear a mask. It also ended a separate state mask mandate for child-care centers.
“This bill will give local control back to the districts – not mandating they do, not mandating they don’t,” said Republican Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville, the bill’s sponsor. “They make the decision of what they think is best for their constituents in their communities.”
Another bill that won final passage imposed a prolonged ban on any statewide mask mandate, leaving masking decisions up to local governments and businesses. That was part of a broad measure addressing medical staffing, vaccines, tests and treatments related to COVID-19.
The schools measure, meanwhile, also gives districts more scheduling flexibility to cope with virus outbreaks, The Associated Press reported. It allows local school leaders to limit remote instruction to a particular school, grade or classroom – depending on the extent of the outbreak – instead of closing the entire district.
The overriding goal, Wise noted, is to keep children in class when possible.
While Democrats sounded dire warnings about the schools legislation – one went as far as to call it a “life-and-death bill” – Republican Rep. John Blanton countered that the bill simply removes that one-size-fits-all approach.
“We are not taking masks away from your children today,” he correctly said. “Masks are still part of the tools that’s provided for each and every school district across this state.”
For those who contend this law simply provides cover for local boards to remove all masks in schools, take note that boards for the Bowling Green Independent School District and Warren County Public Schools voted in recent days to retain universal masking in their schools.
“We want our kids in school and we want them in school five days a week and we want them healthy,” WCPS board Chairman Kerry Young said.
Showing one of the strengths of local control, BGISD Superintendent Gary Fields said the universal masking requirement will be up for board review on a monthly basis. He said his recommendations to the board on that issue will be subject to how well the district is doing with cases and quarantines.
“Our plan to revisit will be monthly,” Fields said. “I think it’s very reasonable that I should present what the data looks like. Hopefully, over the last 18 months, we’ve earned the trust of our parents and our community. You know, we’re just trying to make decisions that keep kids in school. It’s not about anything other than that.”
This pandemic appears far from over, unfortunately, and tough decisions will be needed in the future as our schools navigate our new normal. And when those decisions need to be made, we are happy that the General Assembly saw fit to have local boards – those who are most in tune with local needs – in charge of making them.