Abrams apologizes after maskless photos with masked students

‘Protocols matter,’ she says

Stacey Abrams apologized Tuesday for going maskless in pictures with masked elementary school students after growing backlash from Republicans who accused her of hypocritical behavior.

The Democratic candidate for governor told CNN that she took her mask off to read to students at a Decatur school last week so that children listening remotely in other classrooms could better hear her, but that she shouldn’t have posed maskless for photos after her reading.

“In the excitement after I finished, because it was so much working with those kids, I took a picture. And that was a mistake,” Abrams said of the event, part of a Black History Month reading celebration.

“Protocols matter, and protecting our kids is the most important thing. And anything that can be perceived as undermining that is a mistake. And I apologize.”

The photos, which she amplified in a now-deleted tweet, highlighted a growing political debate over masking requirements and other coronavirus policies at public schools in Georgia. Abrams has called for more stringent coronavirus requirements and blasted Republicans for “inaction” as the virus spread.

It also became a rare unifying moment for warring Republican candidates for governor who briefly put aside their differences to attack Abrams and promise to “unmask our kids.”

At a Cartersville campaign stop on Tuesday, Perdue said he would sign an executive order banning public school districts from requiring masks. Kemp has called on the “remaining few systems with mandates to join the vast majority of Georgia schools” that don’t institute mask requirements.

“I will continue to work alongside members of the General Assembly and the state Board of Education to explore all legal and legislative options available,” Kemp added.

Perdue and the Republican Governors Association — which is backing Kemp — also both rushed out digital ads featuring the photos of Abrams’ classroom appearance. And national GOP leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, accused Abrams of being a hypocrite.

The apology was a sharp change in approach for the Abrams campaign, which on Sunday accused critics of a “pathetic, transparent and silly attack.” Earlier Tuesday, more photos showing Abrams posing without a mask proliferated on social media.

In the CNN appearance, Abrams said that if elected governor she would “set the right example” and wear masks if medical experts advise it. But she said she wouldn’t be “hardline” over requirements and will heed the advice of scientists as the pandemic dynamic changes.

“This is complicated and we cannot make this about politics or scoring political points.”

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