Kemp is called on to ban school mask mandates

State Sen. Burt Jones, right, has urged Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special session of the General Assembly to pass legislation banning school systems from imposing mask mandates. Kemp has said he trusts local school systems on the issue. “Our school superintendents have been dealing with this issue for 15 months. They dealt with it all last year," the governor said. "They know how to deal with COVID in their classrooms. I trust them to do that.” ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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State Sen. Burt Jones, right, has urged Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special session of the General Assembly to pass legislation banning school systems from imposing mask mandates. Kemp has said he trusts local school systems on the issue. “Our school superintendents have been dealing with this issue for 15 months. They dealt with it all last year," the governor said. "They know how to deal with COVID in their classrooms. I trust them to do that.” ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

As a growing number of school districts adopt mask requirements to stem a spike in new coronavirus cases, Gov. Brian Kemp is facing a call from a fellow Republican to block administrators from imposing the requirements.

State Sen. Burt Jones, who is expected to run for lieutenant governor and has angled to gain the support of former President Donald Trump, urged Kemp to call a special legislative session to prohibit mask mandates in school districts and “let Georgia parents — not government bureaucrats — decide what is best for their children.”

School districts covering roughly one-third of Georgia’s public school students have imposed face covering requirements, including several of the largest metro Atlanta systems. A growing number of cities have also revived mask mandates as the infectious delta variant fuels a surge in cases.

Jones outlined his position in a letter to Kemp, saying the government should give parents flexibility to make decisions for their children and “not issuing across the board mandates that will inevitably do more harm than good.”

ExploreRead Burt Jones' letter here

“The wellbeing of our children — and their short and long-term development and education — are squarely at risk by requiring them to wear a mask for the upcoming school year,” Jones wrote. “It is a decision that could have a generational effect on hundreds of thousands of young Georgians.”

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Roughly one-third of Georgia's public school students attend classes in in districts that have imposed face covering requirements to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including several of the largest metro Atlanta systems. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Roughly one-third of Georgia's public school students attend classes in in districts that have imposed face covering requirements to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including several of the largest metro Atlanta systems. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

caption arrowCaption
Roughly one-third of Georgia's public school students attend classes in in districts that have imposed face covering requirements to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including several of the largest metro Atlanta systems. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Democrats framed Jones’ call as a naked attempt to score political points with conservatives.

State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Smyrna Democrat, questioned whether Jones would feel the same if parents want to “drive drunk with their kids in the car, or want to let their toddler bop around the backseat unrestrained.”

“If your kids are such delicate flowers that, unlike millions of other kids in Georgia, they just can’t bear to endure a piece of cloth over their face, there may be bigger issues at play,” she said.

Jones is expected to announce a bid for Georgia’s No. 2 job within weeks, joining a Republican field that includes fellow state Sen. Butch Miller, one of the most powerful lawmakers in the chamber. Activist Jeanne Seaver is also in the GOP race to succeed Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who is not seeking a second term.

A spokesman said Kemp has made his concerns with mandates “well known,” citing his long-standing opposition to the requirements. But the governor, who already plans to ask lawmakers to tackle crime-related measures later this year, seems unlikely to heed Jones’ call this year.

“I trust the local school systems with local control,” the governor said recently. “Our school superintendents have been dealing with this issue for 15 months. They dealt with it all last year. They know how to deal with COVID in their classrooms. I trust them to do that.”

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