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KSBA statement on HB 51 (2022)

(Feb. 17, 2022) During September’s special session of the General Assembly, many lawmakers and education advocates hailed SB 1 as a victory for local control. The legislation ended a statewide mask requirement and empowered Kentucky’s 171 local school boards to determine pandemic masking and mitigation strategies in consultation with local health officials. By returning such decisions to districts, schools could take steps to ensure uninterrupted learning while considering the unique needs of their communities such as school size, incidence rates and area medical facility capacity.

Many legislators and other supporters stated that SB 1 offered a more efficient alternative to a one-size-fits-all approach in our public schools’ efforts to maintain in-person instruction. There were also many people strongly opposed to the bill, especially the mask provisions. 

As a long-standing advocate for local control, KSBA supported SB 1. Within a week of its passage, 96 percent of school boards adopted local masking requirements. Along with those policies, boards across the Commonwealth have implemented their own approaches to quarantine protocols, test-to-stay and test-to-play programs and metrics-driven responses. Since the implementation of SB 1, district masking requirements have evolved, sometimes weekly and sometimes school by school. Some districts tie mitigation efforts to the COVID-19 incidence rate map, others to rates of local spread, or even school-level staff and student absence rates. 

As of mid-February, many locally elected school boards have lifted mask requirements, with some reports indicating that Kentucky is now split; with roughly half of districts requiring masks and half making masks optional. This demonstrates the value of real-time decision-making and stands as a powerful example of local boards acting on behalf of those they were elected to serve.

This session’s HB 51, as it passed out of the House Education Committee, maintains local school board authority to require face coverings in response to COVID-19, but with one notable caveat. The legislation states that such policies must be accompanied by broad opt-out provisions. In this way, HB 51 strikes at the heart of local control, the long-held ideal that governance of our public schools should be entrusted as much as possible to those elected to serve their communities. 

For the same reasons we supported SB 1 in September, we oppose HB 51 now. 

We recognize that, while our state system of common schools must be substantially uniform, local control of our schools is a widely supported principle among Kentuckians. 

KSBA believes that SB 1 should be kept in place, as enacted last September, giving local school boards the continued flexibility over masking and other pandemic mitigation and operational issues. We urge legislators to recommit to that principle of local control, even on controversial issues, as they did in the special session just five months ago. 

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