Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation aimed at letting parents bypass requirements for students to wear face masks in school.
The House Health Committee approved the legislation that harkens back to disputes over public health orders during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill says parents of a student at a K-12 school have the right to “opt his or her child out” of any policy for students to wear a face covering at school, at a school function, on a school bus or at a school bus stop. The bill now moves to the full Alabama House of Representatives for debate.
“This is a parental rights bill,” Republican Rep. Chip Brown, the sponsor of the bill, told the committee. “It’s a bill that basically says, as a parent, that I should make the health decisions for my children, not the state.”
Alabama had a statewide mask requirement during the pandemic, but the order expired on April 9, 2021, and the decision then was left to local school officials. Mask requirements have largely gone by the wayside as COVID-19 case numbers fell. And legal battles have played out in Florida and other states over who has the authority to ban mask mandates in schools.
Democratic Rep. Pebblin Warren questioned the impact on other children and their families if a child without a mask spread an illness.
An Alabama bill would let parents of K-12 students “opt out” of school mask mandates.
“I’m just trying to be fair to all the parents. If my child gets sick because your child carried a virus, what rights do I have to deal with that situation?” Warren said.
Bart Reeves, assistant executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the bill would strip decision-making authority from local school officials who were either elected or appointed by elected officials.
“This sends a concerning message to our communities that individual preferences can override the collective decisions made through the democratic process,” Reeves said during a public hearing on the bill.
The co-founder of a group that opposed mask and vaccine mandates spoke in favor of the bill during the public hearing.
“During the last few years we saw the rights of parents obliterated through the forced masking of their children,” Kaycee Cavender told the committee.