Governor begs school leaders to keep mask mandates, ‘one right answer’

Published 9:15 pm Monday, September 13, 2021

School-age children are contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other age group in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday while exhorting newly empowered school districts to maintain mask requirements in schools.

The statewide vaccination rate among youngsters ages 12 to 17 is the lowest of any group, with 45% having received at least one dose. That combination had the governor using his bully pulpit to plead with local school boards and superintendents to continue mandating mask-wearing in schools.

Last week, the Republican-dominated legislature scrapped a statewide mask mandate for public schools and imposed a ban on any statewide mask rules until June 2023. The Democratic governor vetoed the mask-related language, but GOP lawmakers quickly overrode him before ending a three-day special session.

The legislature shifted masking decisions to local school boards.

“There is one right answer — where you choose masking, where you protect your kids, where you keep them in school,” Beshear said at a Monday news conference. “And then there is one wrong decision, where you endanger children and you allow COVID to spread throughout your community when your hospital is already overburdened.”

A school custodian in eastern Kentucky died from COVID-19 on Sunday, becoming the second staff member at Lee County Elementary to die from the virus since the school year began.

Custodian Bill Bailey died two weeks after an instructional aide at the same school, Heather Antle, also died from the coronavirus, Lee County schools Superintendent Sarah Wasson said.

“He fought hard against COVID but unfortunately it was too much,” Bailey’s son, Austin, said in a social media post. “I can’t put into words how much this hurts.”

The Lee County school board is scheduled to discuss mask policy and other virus-mitigation strategies this week, Wasson said. She said the districtwide mask mandate in effect since Aug. 11 would remain in place as “we work to make the best decisions for the safety of all students, staff and our community.”