OUR VIEW: Kemp was right on school masking in August. He’s wrong now.

Published 3:43 pm Thursday, February 10, 2022

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday he would be introducing a bill that will allow parents to decide if children wear masks at school statewide.

“It is my belief that parents have the tools that they need to best take care of their children. And, you know, that’s why I think we should just let parents decide whether their kids need to be masked or not,” Kemp said.

It’s a complete change in thinking for Kemp, who has always been about local control. In fact, we asked him about this very issue in August, as a local debate was waging on whether or not students in the Troup County School System should be required to wear masks.

The governor’s answer? It wasn’t up to him, and he didn’t want it to be. He thought local school boards should decide.

“I get that there’s been a lot of controversy at the local level, but that’s really where it should be. LaGrange- Troup County schools are different than Fulton, Atlanta, Georgia,” Kemp said on Aug. 23 at the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce. “They’re different than Clark County, Athens, Georgia schools. It’s best in my opinion for the locals to make those decisions. Our superintendents did that really well, all of last year, and they need to be able to move quickly. And if schools need to take a break, let things calm down, we’re going to support them.”

And he was completely right. Kemp’s point then was that one school system might see a huge spike in cases, while another on the opposite end of the state might have zero cases, or very few. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach just didn’t work then and we don’t believe it is appropriate now.

The reason we elect local school board members is so they can deal with local issues. That’s why we have a superintendent, too.

And although TCSS originally required masks at the start of the school year, it changed its policy when cases started to drop. Essentially, if cases at a school remain under 1 percent of the student population, then masks are optional. If more than 1 percent of a school’s population is out with COVID, then masks become mandatory until numbers drop again.

And yes, the governor is right when he says that COVID numbers are dropping statewide. Troup County has had 336 new cases over the last two weeks, which is a lot, but it’s still a far cry from where we were in January.

However, the rest of his reasoning is poor.

There are plenty of statewide issues the governor could turn his attention to while letting superintendents and school boards decide the best way to navigate through this pandemic.

It’s not that parent’s choice isn’t the way to go, it’s that the governor, or the legislature for that matter, shouldn’t be deciding this on a one size fits all format. Our local school boards are elected so they can hear from the people they serve directly. They are accessible and able to speak directly to citizens about their decisions. They are our neighbors, our friends, and our church members and since they live here, they are better educated on what’s happening locally.

Although Kemp has made several trips to our area over the last six to seven months, we aren’t able to call the governor up and talk to him directly about issues we face in our local community.

What will the governor’s stance be if we have another variant that surges through our state? Will he change his mind on this issue and allow schools to mandate masking to keep our children in school? It’s easy to say this now, when cases are dropping, rather than thinking of the future, and unfortunately this pandemic has shown us that it’s very unpredictable.

The governor had this right in August. The Troup County School Board and Superintendent Brian Shumate should make these decisions for our local schools, not someone who doesn’t reside in our community, even if that person is the governor of Georgia.