/Photo by Peoria Unified School District via AZEdNews
Bill targeting mask mandates in schools passes Senate, moves to Ducey’s desk
BY GLORIA GOMEZ/UA DON BOLLES FELLOW | Arizona Mirror
The future of classroom COVID-19 mitigation measures now lies in Gov. Doug Ducey’s hands: A bill the state Senate approved Monday would force schools to seek parental consent if they want to keep their students masked up.
If the governor signs House Bill 2616 into law, school districts and charter schools would be barred from enacting mask mandates to limit the spread of COVID-19 or other illnesses. Instead, they could only require students to wear masks if their parents have given their approval first. Making it an opt-in policy eliminates the ability of schools to enact mask mandates, which were widespread in schools during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, a similar prohibition on masking in public schools was passed but was ultimately voided by the Arizona Supreme Court after it ruled that folding unrelated legislation into budget bills was unconstitutional. Since that setback, Republican lawmakers have turned to the traditional legislative process to strike down mask mandates they see as violating personal freedom and ineffective, despite evidence to the contrary.
Critics say that limiting how schools can respond to the ongoing pandemic — or future health crises — is unwise because masking works best when compliance rates are high. Will Humble, the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, noted that masks work best when preventing particles from exiting, but are less effective at filtering incoming air.
“HB2616 says schools can’t require kids to wear a mask ‘without the express consent of the parent’…nullifying the intervention because classroom masking only works when it’s universal,” tweeted Will Humble, the executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.
For some, the measure doesn’t go far enough. Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita was dissatisfied with its lack of penalties for schools that choose to ignore the directive. Without codified punishment, she said, there wouldn’t be adequate incentive to obey.
“With no pe