The Georgia House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 514, colloquially known as the “Unmask Georgia Students Act” by a 93-52 margin Friday afternoon, which bans face masks from Georgia’s public schools. Tuesday, Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law. No local board of education, superintendent, or personnel of public and state charter schools could impose any rule requiring students to wear a face mask or covering without an opt-out choice for parents, according to the bill.
The “Unmask Georgia Students Act” would also prevent schools and educators from penalizing a student, academically or otherwise, as a result of the parent’s decision.
“Today, we’re taking another important step to ensure that our students are not the victims of those that continue to play pandemic politics,” Kemp said. “The Unmask Georgia Students Act guarantees the rights of parents to make health care decisions in the best interests of their children.”
The ban would last five years until June 30, 2027.
During the hour-long debate, Democrats argued against the bill because it ignores public health and satisfies a conservative talking point.
“There is a shared responsibility to do what you can to protect others,” said. Rep Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn. “Opting out of that responsibility puts others in harm’s way. Public health bills like this create this false and dangerous sense of individualism.”
Clayton County Schools is the only Georgia Public School district that has a mask mandate in place. It is set to expire at the end of the school year. Also, their mandate also extends to school buses.
According to the Clayton County COVID-19 Dashboard, there are three confirmed COVID-19 cases among students. There are 56 confirmed COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 people.
Meanwhile, Atlanta Public Schools and Gwinnett County Schools announced students and employees can wear masks at their discretion on March 1, citing data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The optional protocol also extended to school buses. Masks are required for all students and staff who leave COVID-19 isolation after five days; those individuals will need to wear masks for the final 10 days after they develop symptoms.