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Jefferson Co. Board of Education challenges Cameron ruling on masking

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Liz Schlemmer
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The Jefferson Co. Board of Education says Attorney General Daniel Cameron erred in early December when he ruled in favor of a man who was barred from entering a meeting because he refused to wear a mask or face shield or take a COVID-19 test.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is challenging a decision by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron that would prevent the board from requiring masks at public meetings.

“The Attorney General’s Decision places the public meeting attendance rights of persons with communicable diseases above those of the public at large and forces public servants to risk exposure to potentially life-threatening disease simply to do their jobs,” board attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

The board says Cameron erred in early December when he ruled in favor of a man, Kurt Wallace, who was barred from entering an August JCBE meeting because he refused to wear a mask or face shield or take a COVID-19 test. Jefferson County was in the high-risk category for COVID-19 at the time, and district policy required a mask or negative COVID-19 test to enter district facilities.

Cameron pointed to a state law that says members of the public cannot be barred from public meetings on any condition “other than those required for the maintenance of order.”

“A public health measure such as a requirement to wear a face mask or shield, or to submit to Covid testing, is intended for maintaining public health, but it has nothing to do with maintaining order,” Cameron wrote in his Dec. 5 decision.

Attorneys for the JCBE say Cameron’s interpretation of the statute was “unreasonably narrow.”

“If adopted, the Decision would unreasonably restrict public agencies from taking steps to protect the health and safety of the general public and, as a result, discourage public participation in open meetings.

“Indeed, the Decision would require public agencies to permit in-person attendance for anyone presently infected with a communicable disease, whether it be COVID-19, Chicken Pox, Measles, Polio, Ebola, etc” the complaint reads.

The JCBE asked the court to determine whether Cameron erred in his decision, and whether the attorney general should have recused himself in the case. They highlight campaign materials in which Cameron challenges mask mandates, which have become a flashpoint for some Republicans, conservatives and far-right groups.

Cameron is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

A Jefferson County Public Schools spokesperson declined to comment further on the case, saying the complaint speaks for itself.

Attorney General’s office spokesperson Krista Buckel sent an emailed statement saying, “We stand by our open meetings decision, which speaks for itself and clearly outlines the law, and we respect the right of the Jefferson County Board of Education to file an appeal.”

Wallace declined to provide a public comment. According to his appeal documents, provided by JCBE attorneys, Wallace opposes mask requirements and has made numerous unfounded claims against the JCBE and JCPS, including that the district had violated the Nuremberg Code in promoting vaccination against COVID-19.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.