APS to keep mask requirement despite expected governor’s order banning mask mandates

ATLANTA — Governor Brian Kemp is expected to sign a new executive order on Friday that would keep public school districts from requiring students to wear masks next school year.

Several metro Atlanta students told Channel 2′s Matt Johnson they are glad that they won’t have to wear their masks all day throughout the summer. Now, there may be a chance that when they come back in a few months, they won’t need their masks.

“It was very hard, especially for people who have asthma,” one said.

“I’m going to be super excited because I hate wearing a mask. I could barely breathe,” another said.

Many districts have already made the decision to make masks optional next school year. Gov. Kemp says he will sign an executive order that bans school districts from having mask mandates for students.

Not all school district officials, however, say they will be removing their mask requirement.

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Jason Esteves, chair of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, says his district has no plans to change their requirement.

“We don’t anticipate things changing. We’re still going to use masking requirements as part of our dress code,” Esteves told Johnson.

He credits the mask mandate for helping make sure no APS schools had to close during the year. He added that the mandate will stay in place partly because children under 12 are not eligible to receive the vaccine.

“Particularly, during the summer months, where about 11,000 of our students are coming back for summer school, we have to make sure they’re protected,” Esteves said.

He also told Johnson that he would not be surprised if the governor’s order is challenged in court after it’s signed.

“I anticipate that when a judge looks at the power of a school system to keep it students safe. I think that takes precedence over the politics,” he said.

The governor’s office stated they are taking a “common sense” approach and are ready for legal challenges.

“We feel very comfortable in the legality and constitutionality of this move and, at the end of the day, it’s about making sure that more students, more school staff can return to normal,” said spokesperson Cody Hall.

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The governor has the power to create a mask mandate under a public health emergency, but there are questions about whether he can get rid of one.

“There is no law, though, that says that the governor can usurp the power and the rulemaking authority of local school districts simply because he doesn’t like what school districts are doing,” said Georgia State University Professor Anthony Michael Kreis.

In the state’s largest school district, Gwinnett County School Board members are not sure what will happen to their mask mandate after Friday.

“I’ll be looking forward to talking with my board and understanding what that means to continue to strongly encourage mask usage,” said Gwinnett County School Board Chair Everton Blair.

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There is no word on what consequences school districts that fail to comply with the order could face. In Texas, a similar order was passed that includes a $1,000 fine for any district that imposes mask requirements.