FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
The following statement can be attributed to ACLU of Kentucky Spokesperson Samuel Crankshaw regarding House passage of House Bill 51, ban on universal mask requirements in schools, colleges, and universities:
The Kentucky House of Representatives today passed House Bill 51, a ban on universal masking. HB51 would force some students with disabilities to choose between their health and their education by banning schools, colleges, and universities from requiring universal masking. If enacted, HB51 would force educational institutions to neglect their responsibilities under federal law to ensure equal access for students with disabilities.
The General Assembly voted in 2021 to revoke the Governor’s authority to implement universal school masking, saying they wanted to leave those decisions to local districts. Lawmakers are now hypocritically taking that power back and tying our schools’ hands. Case numbers are on the decline and public health guidance is fluid, but schools, colleges, and universities need the flexibility to protect their students should another highly contagious coronavirus variant arise.
Federal law requires schools to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities so they can access the same education as their peers. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit schools from excluding students with disabilities, denying them equal access to education, or segregating students with disabilities unnecessarily. Allowing schools the ability to implement masking, when needed, is a simple, low-cost, and effective precaution that can keep our schools open for all students.
We wrote to the House Standing Committee on Education outlining their responsibilities under federal law before they passed HB51. We shared those same concerns with lawmakers in 2021 when they passed Senate Bill 1, and with all school districts once the decision to require masking landed with them. Thankfully, the vast majority of districts met their obligations and ensured students with some disabilities could exercise their rights. Laws similar to HB51 enacted in other states have been blocked in federal court, including in Iowa, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
If the Kentucky General Assembly not only ignores – but defies – their responsibility to equal protection under the law, students with some disabilities may be placed in harm's way. Schools need flexibility to adapt so no child is forced to choose between their health and their education.