House Bill Prevents Mask Mandates in Schools

House Republicans are advancing a bill in the West Virginia Legislature that would prevent schools from imposing certain restrictions and requirements to deal with Covid.

HB 4071, the Parent and Student Health Rights Act, prohibits school systems from requiring masks for students or school employees.  The legislation also says schools cannot impose mandatory Covid testing on asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic students or school employees or require a quarantine unless the individual has tested positive.

The bill passed the House Education Committee Wednesday 18-6 and now goes to the Judiciary Committee.

Delegate Jordan Maynor (R—Raleigh) is the lead sponsor of the bill. He said the purpose of the legislation is to leave decisions on how best to deal with Covid to families. “I’ve heard overwhelmingly from my district.  I think it’s time to empower parents, empower individuals to start making these decisions,” Maynor said during committee debate.

The legislation is going to be popular with parents who have grown frustrated with masking, social distancing and other measures taken in the public schools to try to slow the spread of the virus. Policy and enforcement inconsistencies have also contributed to parents’ aggravation.

The parental rights issue has caught on. In neighboring Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin ran his gubernatorial campaign on the issue, buoyed by Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s gaffe when he said during a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Of course, parents have rights, as well as responsibilities, for their children—no one disputes that—but local school boards and administrators have responsibilities as well. In West Virginia, the education system is charged by the Constitution with providing a “thorough and efficient system of free schools.” That broad requirement must include the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

This bill ties the hands of the local boards. It specifically prohibits public schools from adopting a policy that helps ensure the wellbeing of students and staff.  It usurps “local control” of schools, which was always a mantra of West Virginia Republicans in the Legislature… at least until now.

Some who support the bill argue that empowering parents to make masking decisions is the ultimate in local control. However, what if parents asked the local board to impose a mask requirement? If this bill became law, the board would be prevented from doing so.

Voters choose local school boards to oversee the operation of the schools in their county. If citizens do not like the policies or decisions of the board or individual members, then voters have the option of putting someone else in their place.

The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly recommends that anyone over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, wear a well-fitting face mask when in public,” and that includes school. “In addition to protecting the child, the use of face masks significantly reduces the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infections within schools and other community settings.”

Naturally, having the right mask and wearing it properly is critical, especially now since the omicron variant is more contagious than delta.

Local school boards and administrators can evaluate the conditions in their county during this pandemic, listen to what health officials say, consider the input from parents, teachers and staff, consider all options and then make the best decision for their community.

House Bill 4071 specifically takes away one of the options that is proven to help slow the spread of the virus.

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