Bill banning mask mandate in schools passes second time around

FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – A House bill that would ban a mask mandate in schools failed in the House Education Committee by one vote early Wednesday afternoon but came back to life on a reconsideration vote later in the day during the second day of a special session of the General Assembly.

While only 11 committee members were in favor during the original roll call vote – one short of the necessary 12 in the 22-member committee – the “ayes” rose to 16 in the reconsideration vote.

Rep. Kim Banta, R-Ft. Mitchell and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the discussion that led to the final vote “looked kind of like a dysfunctional Thanksgiving meal.”

Banta explained to reporters after the second vote what changed. “We came together as a caucus and we started talking about some of the problems people had with the bill. We agreed that we may have to work on it in the future, but we were worried about killing it completely because of all the good things that schools were going to lose.”

Although the Senate also had a version of the bill, Banta said, “I haven’t seen the Senate version, but I’ve been told it didn’t have as many goodies in it for the schools.”

House Bill 1 would ban any statewide mask mandate in schools, however, local districts would have the option to set their own policy, as part of having a COVID-19 plan in place. Local districts would have 10 days for non-traditional instruction, or NTI days, while also providing a temporary remote instruction option to use at the school, grade, or classroom level. All certified and classified staff would still have to work on-site during NTI days.

School districts could continue to use the pre-pandemic 2018-2019 or 2019-2020 attendance data to determine Average Daily Attendance rates, or ADA; which is how the state bases the amount of funding that goes to each district.

The bill would temporarily revise requirements for emergency substitute certification, allow instructional activities to be performed by classified staff, and allow a district to temporarily hire staff upon receipt of a preliminary background check, as well as directing the Kentucky State Police and Cabinet for Health and Family Services to prioritize school district background checks.

Retired teachers could return to work through January 15, 2022, to help with staff and substitute teacher shortages, without jeopardizing their retirement pay.

Schools would also have the option to either use 170 days of classes, or to extend each school day so 1,062 hours of instruction are met, for the 2021-2022 school year.

It also directs the state Department for Public Health to develop a model “test to stay” program for schools, which involves daily testing, or any other local school board-approved COVID-19 plan for masking, contact tracing, and quarantining, including the location and procurement of resources.

The measure heads to the House floor.