Georgia Governor Restricts School Mask Mandates

May 29, 2021 Updated: May 30, 2021

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed an executive order on May 28 that restricts the state’s public school districts from mandating masks.

The order (pdf), in effect from May 31 through June 15, states that schools and school districts can’t use public health state of emergency powers to compel staff or students to wear masks while on campus.

“As hospitalizations, cases, deaths, and percent positive tests all continue to decline—and with vaccinations on the rise—Georgians deserve to fully return to normal,” Kemp said in a statement. “With safe and effective vaccines widely available and the public well-aware of all COVID-19 mitigation measures, mandates from state and local governments are no longer needed,” Kemp said.

The move comes days after Kemp told Fox News that a declining number of COVID-19 cases within the state would lead to fewer restrictions, particularly regarding children.

“The time for mandates is over. Our numbers have plummeted,” he said. “We’re not going to have a mask mandate for our kids.”

Kemp’s decision drew backlash from some Democrats and school officials.

“Local school districts know better than Brian Kemp does, and his directive hampers their ability to make the best decisions for their schools, educators, and students,” Jason Esteves, a member of the Democratic Party of Georgia who also chairs the Atlanta Public Schools board, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“This is nothing more than a political stunt at a time when Georgians deserve real leadership to help us emerge from the pandemic.”

Throughout the pandemic, Kemp rejected calls to force Georgia schools to impose statewide mask requirements, preferring to let local officials decide. Dozens of Georgia school districts have rolled back mask mandates since January, after initially requiring them.

Kemp’s order also eliminates remaining COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants, bars, conventions, live performance venues, and child-care facilities.

Local governments in counties reaching the threshold requirement of 100 or more positive cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days may impose a “Local Option Face Covering Requirement,” although they aren’t required to do so, according to the order.

However, local governments that do choose to implement local masking requirements may not levy fines greater than $50 for violations, and they must first warn non-compliant individuals before issuing any citations.

At the same time, local governments may continue to impose mask mandates on property owned or leased by them, regardless of whether the threshold requirement is met. The only exception is that no individual may be denied access to a polling location for failure to wear a mask.

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