Georgia Senate approves bill allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates

(The Center Square) — The Georgia Senate has approved a bill that would allow parents to opt their children out of face-covering requirements at Georgia schools.

Local school boards, school superintendents and other public and state charter school officials must give parents the option to withdraw their children from their face covering policies under Senate Bill 514.

The Senate approved the bill, 32-19, on Tuesday, and it now heads to the House for consideration.

The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett, said it will bring normalcy back to classrooms.

“Georgia and America are moving safely out of the global pandemic, and we need to begin to return to normal, and this is a first step in doing so,” Dixon said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its recommendation for mask mandates in areas with low hospitalization rates. Dixon and other supporters said masks limit children’s ability to learn and interact, and there is little research showing masks are effective in protecting people from contracting COVID-19.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, pointed out several school districts already have made masks optional.

The DeKalb County School District, Atlanta Public Schools, Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools and the Gwinnett County Public School District ended their mask mandates this week. Dixon said 44 districts still were under mask mandates as of Tuesday.

If SB 514 becomes law, parents would not have to provide a reason for opting out and students cannot face “adverse disciplinary or academic consequences as a result.”

Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, said Tuesday that SB 514 is a “bad bill” that “usurps” the power of local authority.

“It’s about politics, ladies and gentleman, and it’s taking away local control,” Lucas said. “Boards of education vote at a board meeting, and they make the decisions. And if the parents don’t like the decision that the board members made, then they can campaign against those board members.”