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Lawmaker pre-files bill to let parents opt out from school mask mandates

The bill was filed on a day when Alabama had 92 fewer ICU beds statewide than patients needing that care.

Chip Brown, R-Hollinger's Island.

State Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, has pre-filed two COVID-19-related bills, one of which would allow parents to opt their children out of school mandates to wear face masks. 

The bill was filed Wednesday, a day in which the state had 92 fewer ICU beds statewide than patients needing that care, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.

Of the 2,880 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Alabama on Wednesday, 52 were children. Alabama had five children hospitalized with COVID-19 on July 15. Alabama had 204 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on July 1. 

Children’s of Alabama had 20 of those hospitalized children with COVID-19 on Wednesday, and fewer than five of those children were hooked to ventilators. The hospital policy is not to disclose the actual number when there are fewer than five due to federal privacy laws. 

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among Alabama’s children have continued to climb in recent weeks, with the more contagious delta variant making up nearly all of the state’s cases. Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 12, 2020, there were 1,356 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Alabama children between 5 and 17. During the same time period this year, there were 6,181 confirmed cases, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health

Two mobile morgues were sent at the request of coroners last week to Brown’s area, in Mobile and Baldwin counties, to handle the numbers of COVID-19 deaths.  Two federal medical teams are also in the Mobile area, working to help relieve struggling hospitals, overrun with COVID-19 patients. 

“I don’t know how much longer we’re gonna be able to do this,” Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said during an emotional briefing Friday. 

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Gov. Kay Ivey has said she’ll issue no further mask mandates or other restrictive measures related to COVID-19, leaving it up to local school systems to decide. 

Calhoun County Schools on Monday joined a growing list of school systems going virtual after a rise in COVID-19 cases among students and staff. Calhoun County Schools do not require masks. 

Many schools that didn’t start out requiring masks have since reversed course after seeing rising cases. Vestavia City Schools on Monday announced masks would be required. 

Harris last week said the number of Alabama school children aged 5 to 17 who contracted COVID-19 during the first week of school this year was 700 percent more than during the same time last year. 

Harris said this year’s numbers “are just staggering,” with 5,571 cases among students, compared to just more than 700 last year by this time. 

Groups and agencies that have issued guidance urging universal masking in schools are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, a group of Alabama pediatricians who wrote a letter urging schools to require universal masking and 104 mental health providers who wrote an open letter to Alabama school boards urging masks in schools, published by AL.com  

“Masks don’t pose a mental health threat to children. However, there are several pandemic-related experiences that do: school closures, the death of a primary caregiver, loss of economic security, increased domestic abuse in socially isolated homes, and the absence of resources that kids count on school to provide, like special education services, counseling services, and school lunches,” reads the letter signed by the mental health providers. 

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Rep. Brown didn’t respond to a message from APR on Wednesday, but Brown told AL.com that to him, the bill is a “parental rights bill.” 

“By mandating something on children, we’re basically telling the parents their supervision of their children doesn’t matter,” Brown told AL.com. “So, I think it goes back to who’s raising the child. And I think in the end, parents should have the right to opt out, if they want to opt out.”

Brown’s bill would allow parents to opt their children out of mask requirements in schools, at school functions and on school busses, which is a federal requirement. 

Brown’s other bill would require parental consent for all children under 18 to be vaccinated. Current state law allows children 15 and older to make that decision without a parent’s consent. 

Children 12 and older can receive the Pfizer vaccine, and the medical community has urged parents to get their children vaccinated to help slow the spread and save lives. 

Brown told AL.com that his bill isn’t an anti-vaccine bill. 

“Any parent that wants to allow their child to get a vaccine, then, by all means, do it,” Brown said. “But what this does is just allows the parents to have the final say. It’s the parents’ child. They have rights. And I think this addresses that.”

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Written By

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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