Aug 5, 2021 - Politics

Legislature votes down mask mandates in schools

Illustration of a mask with a red x being drawn over it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It doesn't look like school districts will be allowed to require masks in schools if the legislature has anything to say about it.

What happened: A House committee voted down two bills Thursday that would have allowed school districts to require masks in some circumstances.

Yes, but: This might not be over. Two school districts, Little Rock and Marion, are suing the state over Act 1002, which prohibits public entities from requiring masks.

  • Also, state Rep. David Tollet (R-Lexa) filed a bill on Thursday afternoon that would allow school districts to require masks for kids under 12 during a public health emergency, which Arkansas is in.

Context: Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked the legislature to meet in special session to amend Act 1002 to allow school districts to impose mask mandates, at least in areas where there are kids under 12 because they cannot get vaccinated.

  • State Rep. Julie Mayberry withdrew her bill Wednesday to make amendments to it in hopes of getting it passed Thursday. The committee rejected the amendments and voted down her original bill.

Of note: Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. on Thursday directly defied Act 1002 and announced he is reinstating the city's mask mandate in all public spaces (this does not include private businesses).

Driving the news: Health professionals, including some that spoke to legislators during Wednesday's and Thursday's meetings, say that the Delta variant is causing more kids to catch COVID-19 and to become sicker.

  • Three Arkansas children have died of COVID-19 since December.

The bottom line: Bills that would allow mask mandates of any kind don't seem to be getting anywhere. Now we watch what happens with the lawsuits.


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