First Day of School 2021-22

A sign reminding people to wear face masks is displayed on the front of a Livingston Parish elementary school.

In a letter signed by 63 members of the Louisiana House of Representatives, lawmakers asked the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to allow local school districts to make their own policies regarding mask mandates for K-12 students.

The letter, dated Aug. 16, comes as schools welcome students and faculty back amid the state’s fourth surge of COVID-19. In the letter, lawmakers said BESE “can establish a position that gives direction to each school board based on local health risks.”

“We are writing on behalf of frustrated parents, grandparents, and guardians across the state regarding the most recent proclamation issued by Governor Edwards on August 2, 2021 mandating masks across the state, including in K-12 schools,” the letter begins.

“The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should consider the questions raised by parents concerning the constitutional rights of students.”

Earlier this month, Gov. John Bel Edwards reinstated a statewide mask mandate for everyone 5 years of age and older, a decision he said was made in response to the state’s fourth and “worst surge yet” of COVID-19.

The mandate went into effect Aug. 4 and expires Sept. 1, though Edwards has said he will extend it if necessary. The mandate, according to Edwards, applies to all K-12 schools, colleges, and universities in Louisiana.

On Aug. 6, Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has clashed with Edwards on a wide range of issues related to the pandemic, issued an opinion saying that BESE — not the governor — has the final say on whether students should be required to wear masks.

In the opinion, Landry said no entity, other than the Legislature, “may supersede any action of BESE undertaken to supervise or control education in this State.”

“This office is of the opinion that directives as to the safety protocols to be observed by teachers and students present at school facilities during the school day are themselves a vital aspect of education over which BESE holds constitutional and statutory authority to oversee,” Landry concluded in his opinion.

In response to Landry’s opinion, Edwards has said that he has the authority during a public health emergency to issue a mask mandate. The governor has called Landry’s opinion “completely wrong” as well as “irresponsible” and “dangerous.”

“Wearing a mask has proven to be one of the most effective tools we have for slowing the transmission of this virus,” Edwards wrote in a letter to State Superintendent Cade Brumley.

In their letter to BESE, representatives said they “stand united for BESE control and respect for parental rights in these matters” and that local education leaders “are ready to move forward at your direction to deliver continued success and safety for their students.”

“Please use your Constitutional authority to protect Louisiana families and give direction to our local school boards and its parents,” the letter said.

BESE is set to tackle the topic during its meeting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

Below is the full letter signed by 63 members of the House of Representatives:

“Dear BESE Members,

“We are writing on behalf of frustrated parents, grandparents, and guardians across the state regarding the most recent proclamation issued by Governor Edwards on August 2, 2021 mandating masks across the state, including in K-12 schools. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should consider the questions raised by parents concerning the constitutional rights of students.

“Louisiana Constitution Article 8, Section 3(A) provides that BESE shall supervise and control the public elementary and secondary schools and special schools under its jurisdiction. In addition, in the absence of any specific legislative intent to the contrary, BESE may, if it chooses, adopt rules governing COVID-19 safety protocols, such as temperature checks, the option of mask mandates or exceptions to mask mandates, and other protocols that BESE determines are needed.

“Please use this authority to act on behalf of parents and local school leaders, just as your Board agreed to do earlier in the pandemic. BESE can establish a position that gives direction to each school board based on local health risks.

“On behalf of parents across our districts, we stand united for BESE control and respect for parental rights in these matters. Our schools did well last year when the state provided the direction and resources required to manage their affairs. These local education leaders are ready to move forward at your direction to deliver continued success and safety for their students.

“Please use your Constitutional authority to protect Louisiana families and give direction to our local school boards and its parents.

“Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to our urgent request.”

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