Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion on Friday that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) may adopt rules governing COVID-19 safety protocols like mask mandates.
The ruling comes after Landry released forms aiming to exempt people from "requirements related to the COVID-19 virus" based on religious or philosophical objections. Edwards responded to the letters, saying Landry's actions sought "to undermine public confidence in one of the most effective tools to combat" the pandemic. During a conference Friday, Edwards said Landry's opposition is "dangerous," adding that the mask mandate is "clearly in my authority."
According to our media partners at The Advocate, BESE may tackle the topic at its next meeting on August 17.
Edwards' mandate applies to everyone over the age of 5 and all school campuses, including K-12.
The 5-page opinion reads in part, "This office is of the opinion that directives as to the safety protocols to be observed by teachers and students present at school facilities during the school day are themselves a vital aspect of education over which BESE holds constitutional and statutory authority to oversee."
"BESE may adopt such rules providing for COVID-19 safety protocols, such as mask requirements and exceptions thereto. Additionally, BESE may adopt rules providing guidelines for local school boards to adopt such policies considering factors specific to the school district such as the percent positivity rate of the district, event settings, group composition, physical distance between students in classrooms, activity engaged in, and other relevant criteria," the opinion continues. The Administrative Procedure Act provides mechanism for oversight by the Legislature and the Governor, the opinion says.
Landry notes that BESE is given constitutional authority to supervise and control education in Louisiana, with the Legislature being the only other entity with that authority on a statewide basis.
Pursuant to the state constitution and "in the absence of any specific legislative intent to the contrary, BESE may, if it chooses, adopt rules governing COVID-19 safety protocols, such as temperature checks, the option of mask mandates or exceptions to mask mandates, and other protocols that schools may seem fit. We also recommend that BESE take into consideration constitutional rights of students that parents may raise," the opinion finishes.
Edwards clarified Thursday that the only exceptions to the mandate include any child under 5 not enrolled in a kindergarten program, those with medical conditions that prevent the wearing of a mask, anyone communicating or giving a speech, and a few others.
Attorney general opinions are advisory. The entire opinion can be read below:
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