ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and his floor leader, Senator Clint Dixon, introduced a new bill allowing parents to decide whether or not their kids will wear masks in school. During a news conference unveiling the 'Unmask Georgia Students Act,' Kemp pressed that "we've got to continue to move back to normal operations."
The governor stated the new bill, which would take effect upon signature, would give parents an "opt out" on whether or not to mask their children in the classroom. The bill is still in the early stages and still needs to make it through the state House and Senate.
Kemp emphasized that the bill wouldn't outlaw or prevent students from wearing masks, but rather give them the option to decide if they or their parents wish not to. The bill also doesn't require parents to provide any reason for why their child will not be wearing a mask.
"People are beyond frustrated, they want our kids in the classroom," Kemp said on Monday. "At this point in the pandemic, we should leave it up to the parents."
So, how will this be reinforced?
Kemp wasn't exactly clear on explaining that other than to say they "hopefully won't have to worry" about it. What clarification was given seemed to simply state that a child can not be punished or face any academic consequences for not wearing a mask in the classroom, according to the bill. Still, the governor seemed to understand that attempted pushback to the legislation would likely happen.
The governor's office told 11Alive there are around 45 school districts in Georgia that have mask mandates in place to some degree. Among those are Atlanta Public Schools and DeKalb Public Schools, as every metro county is still considered to have high COVID transmission rates by CDC standards.
When asked about the possibility of another variant, creating a spike in cases similar to the recent omicron surge, Kemp did add that COVID "isn't going to just end" but he believes there are now tools to fight the virus.
"Parents are beyond frustrated, especially with young children in the classroom," Kemp remarked. "We should trust parents, their medical providers, with the health of their children."
Still, health officials have been cautious about removing mandates, despite cases from the recent omicron surge leveling off. Medical Director of Infection Prevention for Wellstar Health System Dr. Danny Branstetter previously said people should continue to mask up and get boosted.
Meanwhile, Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky agreed last week that now is not the time to drop mandates.
11Alive reached out to the Georgia Department of Public Health about the bill. A spokesperson said its policy is to not comment on pending legislation.
APS said in a statement that while it requires students to wear masks under the district’s student dress code policy, school officials are "closely monitoring" what happens with the bill.
"We appreciate state leaders who have provided local school districts the flexibility to keep schools safe by implementing a multi-layered approach to COVID mitigation," the district said.
If passed, Gov. Kemp's bill would expire in June of 2023.