Governor Asa Hutchinson wants a mask mandate in schools. He wants the legislature to pass legislation letting local school boards decide whether to adopt a mask mandate. Governor Hutchinson claims his plan equals local control and is the conservative thing to do.
Is this the conservative thing? No, the conservative thing is to let parents decide whether to mask their children. That is exactly where the law stands now.
But what about this issue of local control? Asa is a phony when it comes to the local control issue and so are legislators who vote for his plan. Asa picked this one issue but somehow isn’t concerned with hundreds of pages of laws regulating almost every aspect of schools.
Let’s start with a random listing of some (not all) HEALTH RELATED school requirements mandated by the state:
- Sets rules and exceptions for age-appropriate required immunization
- Requires automated external defibrillators
- Requires schools to allow a student to carry and use an asthma inhaler or auto-injectable epinephrine, or both, while in school, at an on-site school-sponsored activity, or at an off-site school-sponsored activity.
- Requires school to allow student access to a private area to perform diabetes monitoring and treatment functions
- Requires free availability of feminine hygiene products
- Sets standards for school nurses and requires annual reports of school nurse activities
- Limits and regulates establishment of school-based health clinics
- Limits instruction on sex education, sexual orientation, and gender identity by requiring notice and inspection of materials by parents and allowing the parents to opt out their child
- Sets health and wellness priorities for schools, known as “Healthy Active Arkansas Schools Act”
- Gets guidelines how to addresses behavioral and mental health issues
- Requires resource officers and school councilors to get certification in Youth Mental Health First Aid
- Requires professional development or professional learning credits in mental health awareness and teen suicide awareness and prevention for licensed public-school personnel
- Requires physical education
- Sets health and safety regulations for student physical activities, for example concussion protocol
- Requires instructional materials to students on food handling safety
- Requires the subject of bleeding control to be included in a health course
- Requires organ donor awareness to be taught in health classes
- Requires dating violence awareness to be taught as part of a health course.
- Sets school contribution for employees’ health insurance
The list demonstrates Asa is not really concerned with local control over school health issues.
But let’s not stop there. Let’s look at some other state laws that inject the state into almost every area of school administration. For example:
- Sets minimum age for school
- Requires compulsory school attendance
- Limits what school a student may attend legally
- Mandates the days in a school year and the hours of instruction
- Sets the subject that must be taught, as determined by the State Board of Education, plus some specific laws require subjects such as Arkansas history, physical education, computer science, etc.
- Sets standards for the teachers’ day, such as planning periods and limits noninstructional duties.
- Requires personnel policies, standards for teacher contracts, standards for dismissal of teachers, and standards for hearings.
- Sets standards for discipline policies.
- Requires schools to maintain certain student records
- Mandates how district funds are to be maintained
- Sets standards for school property and supplies, such as use of property, sale, etc.
- Sets standards for school elections
Get the point? Asa’s argument for local control of mask mandates is phony. The only reason Asa is proposing legislation to give school boards the decision over whether to impose mask mandates is he hopes the legislature will pass this plan because it makes school boards the scapegoats.
If the plan passes, school board members will be judged at election time based on whether they do or do not pass a mask mandate, not on how well the school is run.
Leave the issue to real local control. Let each child’s parent decide whether to mask their children. And that is where the law stands today.