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Groups Ask AR Lawmakers to Lift Mask-Mandate Ban in Schools

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Wednesday, August 4, 2021   

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- COVID-19 has given a whole new meaning to the term "Extraordinary Session," as state lawmakers are in Little Rock again today to take up possible changes to laws they just passed a few months ago.

They'll consider whether to repeal or amend a bill that bans mask mandates by state or local officials. In its current form, Act 1002 prohibits school districts in Arkansas from making face masks mandatory for students and teachers.

Groups, including Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said this puts young children not yet eligible for the vaccine at risk.

Gary Wheeler, a pediatrician and president of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said in the latest COVID surge, the state has seen an increase in children hospitalized due to the virus, which makes him fearful for this school year.

"The kids are sicker, and we have kids on dramatic interventions to save their lives," Wheeler recounted. "These are dramatic things that we did not see with the alpha strain last season. So, we are frankly terrified of what might happen."

Wheeler heads the board of directors of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. Arkansas had its highest jump in hospitalizations in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic on Monday. Just over 36% of Arkansans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Tuesday he does not support another statewide mask mandate, but wants the Legislature to allow local school districts more flexibility to protect kids under 12. He noted much has changed in the state since he signed Act 1002 into law in April.

"I signed it at the time because our cases were at a very low point," Hutchinson explained. "I knew that it would be overridden by the Legislature if I didn't sign it. Everything has changed now, and yes, in hindsight, I wish that had not become law."

Parents in Little Rock also filed suit Monday against the state over the mask-mandate ban, calling the legislation unconstitutional.


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