ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared Friday that public schools no longer have his permission to require masks for coronavirus protection, though his executive order fell short of banning such mandates outright.
The Republican governor’s written order came two days after Kemp gave a preview in a Fox News Channel interview Wednesday, declaring: “The time for mandates is over.”
“We’re not going to have a mask mandate for our kids,” Kemp said. “Our teachers have had the ability to get vaccinated. It certainly doesn’t keep anyone from wearing a mask.”
The actual order adjusting Georgia’s few remaining coronavirus restrictions isn’t so strongly worded.
Instead, Kemp’s order says Georgia school districts can no longer claim their authority to require masks comes from the governor.
It’s unclear how many Georgia districts ever required employees and students to wear masks. While a number of metro Atlanta school districts enforced the requirement, many districts in outer suburbs and rural areas only strongly recommended masks.
Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, said school boards can likely require teachers and staff to wear masks without the governor’s permission, much like they impose dress codes.
Kreis said Kemp’s order “punted this as a political issue back to the local school boards and said, `I don’t want you to do this and you can’t use me as your justification.’”
Kemp is running for reelection in 2022 and has been taking steps to shore up support among Republican voters still restive over claims that Kemp didn’t do enough to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory in Georgia.