Beshear vetoes bill to end school mask mandate but lawmakers override veto

Legislation that would ban statewide mask mandates in Kentucky schools, while allowing local school boards the power to implement them, cleared the General Assembly during day three of the special session.

As soon as it reached Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk,  he vetoed it late Thurssday night. His line-item veto was quickly overridden in the Senate on a 22-6 vote and by the House on a 69-24 vote.

School districts will have five business days to determine their mask policy before the statewide requirement officially ends.

Beshear disagreed with portions of the bill that ended mask requirements for public schools and child-care facilities.

The governor said in his afternoon press conference that “universal masking is absolutely necessary in schools. Now, thankfully, I think most superintendents know that now, even the ones who didn’t think it was true in the beginning.”

He also questioned “how many people at this point would be foolish enough – because that’s what it would be – to put that many kids in danger by not requiring masks in schools.”

Beshear’s veto message said masks were a “safe and effective way” to battle the spread of COVID-19. The governor previously issued statewide mask mandates and recently said he thought another mask order was needed to confront the current surge.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, is similar to House Bill 1. Besides a prohibition on statewide mask mandates for schools, other requirements include:

–Each school district must have a COVID-19 school operations plan in place.

–The Department for Public Health shall develop a COVID-19 “test to stay” model school plan that may be implemented by school districts, in whole or part, to minimize the impact of quarantining non-symptomatic students and staff, by having them tested daily at school.

— Local districts would have ten days for non-traditional instruction, or NTI days, while also providing 20 days of 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.

–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.

“What we’re trying to do here,” Wise said on the Senate floor, “is a fair and flexible method that superintendents can get behind.  There are very good and intelligent superintendents that I know well and work with. They should be able to adjust.”

It passed 28-8 and headed to the House, where it cleared the House Education Committee and was then approved by the full House 70-25, after that chamber merged the House version into SB 1.