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Arkansas Governor Says Reconsideration Of Mask Ban In Schools Would Have To Come From Legislature

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was a guest Sunday on CNN's program "State of the Union."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says it will be up to the Arkansas General Assembly to decide whether to repeal a facemask ban in schools. It comes as parents are fearing for the safety of their children with the new academic year starting in a few weeks.

In response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases, one mother began a petition campaign on social media. “Tell the Republicans to Allow Schools to Protect Kids by Mandating Masks” was started last Tuesday and has already garnered more than 1,400 signatures.

S. Judson Scanlon has a daughter in the North Little Rock School District. Scanlon began the petition because of concerns about sending the 10-year old back to school without a mask mandate in place, especially with the recent surge in cases of COVID-19 in the state and the low vaccination rate. The petition is in response to the legislature this year restricting the governor’s power or any public institution’s authority in reinstituting a mask mandate.

“So the petition itself calls on the state legislature—Senate and the House to reconvene and address the issue by repealing any anti-mask mandate. It's basically the same request that was written in a letter by 12 Democratic legislators,” Scanlon said in an interview.

Last Thursday, 12 lawmakers from Pulaski County released a letter to Hutchinson and Republican legislative leaders requesting a special session or reconvening of the legislature to reconsider the law which goes into effect on Wednesday. The lawmakers specifically requested that the ban be lifted, “in a manner that respects the will of the legislature, the health of our people, and the importance of locally informed responses.”

Speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Hutchinson said he would much rather focus on getting more Arkansans vaccinated than debating the mask argument.

“That’s something we’re going to have to continue to weigh depending upon vaccination rates and how they proceed between now and school. But that is a legislative prohibition on having a mask mandate, even in our schools. So, that will only change if the legislature comes back together and yields to that local control.”

Karen Beller, a psychological examiner from Batesville, says she signed the petition because she wants the ban on mask mandates gone.

“I’m very concerned about the inability of local school districts or municipalities, or even a state health department to make a mandate on masks in an area where they feel it’s dangerous to not have them in the schools,” Beller said.

Beller said that she did not send her child to school last year because her school district’s mandate on masks began at 10-years-old and her son was only nine-years-old.

“I was tempted to send him back this year thinking they would all be masked and they would be fine, and then they passed that law,” said Beller. “He won’t go back to school this year unless they’re wearing a mask.”

Beller’s hope for the petition is that the legislators see the need to undo the law and go back into session to amend it.

“I suppose they could go back in and do a mask mandate, but I seriously doubt they would do that,” said Beller. “But they should at least make it so that the local school districts and municipalities can make decisions for the people in their schools.”

In addition to signing the petition, Beller is taking part in a lawsuit against the state regarding the mask mandate ban that she says will be filed later this week.

“We’re at a place in our state right now with the rising infections that we must mitigate the virus. Younger and younger people are being affected, and it’s not right for us to not be able to protect our children.”

Scanlon plans to present the petition with more than 1,500 signatures in the next couple of weeks.

“My hope is upon delivery to the governor and to the house and to the senate, that they will actually see that they’re not just working in a vacuum,” said Scanlon. “That people are very aware of what they should be doing and what they aren’t doing, and they should act accordingly.”

Scanlon says a decision will be made by August 28 on whether to send her daughter back to school. Scanlon plans on biding her time to see what the legislature will do in response to both the letter and the petition. Scanlon has concerns mostly about the low vaccination rate and the delta variant of COVID-19 currently running through the state and affecting younger generations than the original strain.

“There is nothing that speaks to the necessity of the vaccinations than our children will be walking into situations where they are unprotected and at risk of ending up in the hospital,” said Scanlon. “Because our kids cannot get vaccinated. And we’re subjecting them to our poor choices.”

Christine Jones was an intern with KUAR News in the summer of 2021 as part of the George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship program. She is a writer, editor, and student in the UA Little Rock Professional Technical Writing MA Program. She also works as a Graduate Assistant for The College of Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Education at UA Little Rock, as the Communications Assistant.
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