Kemp looks to make masking optional in Georgia schools
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is looking to pass legislation that would make masking optional in the state’s schools, but is facing criticism from his main primary challenger that he didn’t move fast enough.
Kemp on Wednesday said he is working with state lawmakers on legislation that would allow parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates.
“On the mask issue, I’ve been very patient. I’ve been a local-control governor. But this has gone on for too long,” Kemp said, adding that he believes “parents have the tools that they need to best take care of their children.”
“That’s why I think we should just let parents decide whether their kids need to be masked or not,” he said.
“I appreciate what the schools have been doing, we’ve been there the whole time helping them give the resources to stay open and keep our kids in the classroom. But now it’s time to do this, and certainly this legislation I hope would send a message to those districts,” he added.
It’s unclear what authority Kemp has to set public health policy in school districts. A similar move by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) last month quickly became mired in litigation on both sides.
A number of districts in Georgia require masks to be worn in schools, though the state’s Education Department does not keep track of how many schools have such measures in place, according to The Associated Press.
Kemp is currently entrenched in a fierce reelection battle. Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is waging a primary bid against the sitting governor, but the incumbent thus far appears to have a slight lead. Perdue, however, has former President Trump’s endorsement.
Perdue knocked Kemp on Wednesday after he said he was looking to loosen school mask mandates, writing in a statement “Brian Kemp only does the right thing when we spell it out first.”
“Why didn’t Kemp stand up for parents’ rights two years ago when this pandemic began? 20-year career politicians like Kemp only care in an election year,” he added, according to the AP.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last month found that 43 percent of likely GOP voters are supporting Kemp, and 36 percent are backing Perdue.
The winner of the primary race will likely take on Democrat Stacey Abrams, who lost to Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial race, in the general election.
Aides to the governor said the bill addressing masks would be introduced in the coming days, according to the AP.
A renewed focus has been placed on masks in the classroom after Abrams posed for a photo with a classroom full of masked students, but she herself was not wearing a face covering.
Some Republicans criticized Abrams for the photo, accusing her of hypocrisy. She later apologized, saying it was a “mistake” to take a picture without her mask.
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urged officials against nixing their school mask mandates in an interview on Tuesday, telling Reuters “we continue to endorse universal masking in schools.”