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Edwards clarifies mask mandate to top education official after AG’s opt-out template surfaces

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Gov. John Bel Edwards

By William Patrick | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Gov. John Bel Edwards sent a letter Thursday to Louisiana Education Superintendent Cade Brumley to clarify issues relating to the governor’s statewide mask mandate as it applies to children returning to K-12 schools this month.

The clarification comes after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry provided an opt-out template to his employees, which Landry then released to the public.

The document was shared on social media and prompted parents and concerned residents on different sides of the issue to contact schools.

“The letter is in direct response to questions raised about exceptions to the mandate and in particular, the letter by the Louisiana attorney general that ignores the dangerous fourth surge of COVID-19 that Louisiana is currently facing with increasingly alarming case counts, hospitalizations and deaths and seeks to undermine public confidence in one of the most effective tools to combat it,” a statement from the governor’s office said.

Edwards, a Democrat, is in favor of public and private sector mask mandates as a precaution against spreading COVID-19. He also suggested during a town hall discussion this week that COVID-19 vaccine mandates may be applied broadly after full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which he estimated could happen by Labor Day.

Landry, a Republican, is not opposed to masks or vaccines but views mandating them for people who disagree on philosophical grounds as an affront to personal liberty.

“Since news broke that I provided my Department of Justice employees information so they could express their religious and philosophical concerns regarding masks and vaccines, my office has been inundated with questions and requests,” Landry said. “While state law prohibits us from providing legal advice to individuals and businesses, as a matter of public record, we are releasing the framework documents given to our employees.”

A template was posted on the Office of the Louisiana Attorney General Facebook page.

“I am seeking an exemption from __’s requirements related to the COVID-19 virus. I have philosophical objections that make it impossible for my child to comply with your COVID-19 politics related to vaccines and mask wearing,” the document said.

“Your mask policy imposes risks on my child’s mental and emotional health by hindering his verbal and nonverbal communication with classmates and teachers for up to 6+ hours a day,” it said.

The template disputed the efficacy of cloth masks and cited U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance regarding the transmission of COVID-19 through “fine droplets,” which cloth masks cannot prevent.

“Any protection cloth masks provide is additionally diminished by the fact that most children lack the ability to refrain from touching their own masks, faces and nearby surfaces for the 6+ hours they are at school,” the document said.

Brumley announced last month the Louisiana Department of Education would not impose a statewide mask mandate for K-12 children as it did last year, and instead left the decision to local school systems. That changed Monday when Edwards reinstituted an indoor mask mandate.

“This decision is not one I take lightly, but as the fourth surge of COVID-19 is upon us, we know that mask wearing when you are in public is one way to greatly lower your risk of spreading or catching COVID,” Edwards said.

Louisiana has the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita of any state in the country and incurred record hospitalizations this week.

In his letter to Brumley, Edwards made clear the only exemptions to wearing masks are those outlined in his executive order, which covers medical conditions, communication disorders, public speaking, athletic competitions and temporary removal for eating, drinking and identification.

Philosophical disagreements are not recognized.

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