Today, I am joining my colleagues from Pulaski County in their earnest plea to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, President Pro Tempore Sen. Jimmy Hickey and Speaker of the House Rep. Matthew Shepherd to bring the General Assembly back into session to repeal the ban on mask mandates in our state.
It has become painfully obvious that the Delta Variant of COVID-19 is having a serious impact on the people of Arkansas; and unlike previous iterations of the virus, the Delta Variant is proving to be more harmful to our children. We just experienced our first pediatric death to COVID-19, and at least a dozen children are hospitalized with severe cases of COVID pneumonia.
Couple this troubling surge with the fact that Arkansas schools no longer have the ability to require students to wear masks thanks to the draconian Act 1002 passed this spring and you have a recipe for disaster when students return to school.
Let’s be clear: Neither I, nor my colleagues, are calling for a statewide mask mandate. We are seeking to repeal a statewide ban on mask mandates so that our communities, and especially our local school boards, have the ability to make a decision that’s best suited for the children they serve. The same lawmakers who feign outrage over federal mandates and executive orders have asserted their own brand of authority over Arkansas communities and schools. When did we stop caring about local control?
If we do not act, not only are we stripping our communities of their agency and jeopardizing our children, but we are also sending a bleak message to the rest of the country. How many more need to die before we decide to care? What industries would care to come to a state that sits on its hands while becoming the epicenter of a new surge? How can we say we value education when this will certainly lead to more school stoppages, returns to virtual learning and quarantines?
The stakes are too high to gamble with the health of Arkansas children. Now is not the time for political stunts or showboating. Let’s repeal Act 1002 and empower our schools and our communities with the ability to do what’s best for them.