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As Delta Variant Spreads, Republicans Criticize Beshear’s School Mask Mandate

Gov. Andy Beshear stands at a podium with a flag and a banner saying Team Kentucky behind him.
Corinne Boyer
KY Gov. Andy Beshear delivers his 250th and final regular coronavirus briefing.

Republicans are criticizing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s school mask mandate as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the state and kids are returning to school.

Beshear issued an executive order on Tuesday requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in Kentucky public schools.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron is challenging Beshear's actions. He filed a motion with the Kentucky Supreme Court arguing the governor's order ignores new laws passed by the legislature that limit his emergency powers.

"The Governor does not have to choose between following the science and following the law," Cameron wrote in a statement. "The two can and should work together. If he believes that the science requires a statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers, then he needs to do what the law requires and work with the General Assembly to put the necessary health precautions in place."

Thestate’s high court is still deliberating over the legality ofnew laws passed by the state legislature that would limit Beshear’s emergency powers and give lawmakers more oversight over the process.

Beshear sued to block the new laws earlier this year. The measures include:

  • Senate Bill 1, limiting the governor’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature
  • Senate Bill 2, giving the legislature more oversight over the administrative regulation process
  • House Bill 1, allowing businesses and schools to create their pandemic safety plans that adhere with federal CDC guidelines, and not state regulations

A lower court has temporarily blocked parts of the laws while Beshear’s challenge continues through the system.

House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, issued a statement Wednesday morning saying decisions about masking should be left up to local school districts.

“Local school districts across the state have carefully considered mandatory face coverings and made decisions regarding their own policies. The Governor may not agree with their choices, but he must respect their authority. Instead, at the eleventh hour, he chose to politicize this issue and flout their decisions by issuing an executive order with extremely questionable legal standing,” Osborne said.

Osborne said until the Kentucky Supreme Court rules on the legality of the new laws limiting Beshear’s powers, “this issue remains unresolved.”

“It is their unwillingness to act that has left so much in limbo,” Osborne said.

Delta Variant In Kentucky

Like much of the nation, Kentucky has been experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the delta variant of the virus.

Research shows mask mandates and other restrictions have been effective at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended everyone wear masks inside at K-12 schools.

On Tuesday,the state reported 2,500 new cases—the highest number of cases since January—and officials warned Kentucky could soon have more people hospitalized due to COVID than at any time during the pandemic.

The vast majority of new cases and hospitalizations are among people who aren’t vaccinated.

Over recent weeks, school districts have been deciding what safety measures to implement as they welcome students back to in-person classes, some for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

Beshearinitially encouraged local districts to issue their own mask mandates,but as of last week about two-thirds of districts planned to start the school year without masking requirements.

Several districts changed their policies to require masks earlier this week after a spike in COVID-19 cases among children, and mass quarantines in some districts. Warren County Public Schools instituted a mask mandate after quarantining more than 700 students and staff during its first week of classes.

Republicans Still Oppose Pandemic Rules

Republicans have criticized Beshear’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and renewed their disapproval after he issued the school mask mandate on Tuesday.

Sen. Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said masking decisions should be made at the local level.

“Once again, a ‘one size fits all approach’ is taken by this Gov & completely erodes local control decision making where local elected officials are listening to parents needs & wants while the Gov issues his ‘indoor mask mandate in schools’ EO while not wearing a mask himself,” Wise wrote onTwitter.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Crofton, Tweeted out his opposition to Beshear’s order.

“Did anyone even speak at all to the psychological and educational harm to students wearing masks all day? I sure didn’t catch it if they did. So frustrating,” Westerfield said.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican who represents Kentucky’s 4th Congressional district,Tweeted that Beshear was “drunk on power, following the advice of his shaman.”

This story has been updated.

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