Updated: Mar 13, 2022
Republicans claim their new legislation restores parental rights. Text of the law suggests that lawmakers may have also codified mask-wearing as the norm for pre-K - 12th-grade students.
By: Sloan Rachmuth
The state legislature passed a bill this week that allows North Carolina parents to opt their children out of mask-wearing mandates set by their local education boards.
The bill, Senate Bill 173, requires schools to honor parents’ requests, for any reason, and prohibits school employees from taking retaliatory action against students opting out of wearing masks on school property.
Speaker pro tempore Tim Moore said this about the legislation in his speech to the House Education Committee:
"But most importantly, it is going to reaffirm the absolute right that parents should be the ones making these decisions for their children. And not government."
While affirming a parent's right to unmask their children, the bill also makes mask-wearing a default position in public schools. From the bill:
“A public school unit shall adopt a process for parents to provide annual notification of the election.”
This provision could give school districts such as Wake, Orange, and Mecklenburg - who cling to the mandates - the legal foundation to continue masking children in perpetuity.
Here's a question: Why should parents who want their children to go maskless have to petition school administrators through an unspecified “process?”
The word "annually" in the bill is also bothersome. It implies that mask mandates are the norm, rather than an outlier.
The text of North Carolina’s bill seems to copy Virginia’s recent bill enacted by Republican Governor Glenn Younkin.
Notably, Virginia’s bill does not require that parents opt out of face masking every school year with no end in sight.
With its legislation, Virginia is saying that it's time to get back to normal, while North Carolina signals that mask mandates are the new normal, regardless of who follows Democrat Governor Roy Cooper.
Up until 2020, the "anti-mask" law in North Carolina prohibited the wearing of masks in public. This state joined Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Oregon and seven other states in creating the common-sense legislation meant to curb violence and other crimes.
The Republican majority in the General Assembly passed Session Law 2020-3 during the early months of the pandemic. It created a temporary exemption to the state's anti-mask law, which made it legal to wear a mask in public for reasons of public health. The exemptions were set to expire on August 1, 2020.
Then, Governor Cooper signed Executive Order 147 mandating the wearing of masks in public by North Carolinians over the age of two on June 23, 2020.
On July 8, 2020, the legislature permanently altered the anti-mask law with this provision:
Any of the following are exempted from the provisions of G.S. 14-12.7:
Any person wearing a mask for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others.
QUESTION: Would school mask mandates exist today if legislators had worded the exemption this way?:
Any person who who wishes to wear a mask for the purpose of ensuring the physical health or safety of the wearer or others
While Republican legislators avoid making overly proscriptive laws, they did so when they required parents to opt out of school masking every year.
Additionally, Republicans took action to extend the anti-mask law after Cooper issued his executive order. As a result, the GOP gave more executive power to the governor, who was being protested by the conservative base for his restrictive COVID decrees that kept businesses and schools closed.
Now, a year-and-a-half later, and after blue states like Connecticut, New Jersey, and Oregon; Republican lawmakers are taking a victory lap for passing SB173 with bi-partisan votes:
HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE
The mid-term elections are just around the corner and lawmakers are seeing the writing on the wall. They know that voters will no longer accept governmental restrictions on their civil liberties. The Republicans also watched the Virginia elections very closely, and they know that they must communicate better than the Democrats their ability to preserve parental rights.
There is a pressing need for voters to demand action to back up the GOP messaging heading into November because it may be hard to get lawmakers' attention again after the election.