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COVID-19 Coverage

AZ House Panel Votes to Override Public School Mask Policies

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By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Calling it a matter of parental rights, a House panel voted Wednesday to override mask mandates that exist in some public schools around the state.
HB 2616 says schools can require masks of anyone younger than 18 only if they have ``express consent of the person's parent or guardian.''
It's not just schools, however. The measure approved by the Committee on Government and Elections also would impose the same parental mandate before a minor can be forced to mask up on any government property.
But there were limits on what lawmakers were willing to mandate. Before approving the measure on a 7-6 party-line vote, the Republican-controlled committee removed a provision that also would have extended the measure's coverage to private businesses.
It was the issue of schools, however, that provoked the biggest debate on the proposal by Rep. Joseph Chaplik, R-Scottsdale. He told colleagues that, as far as he sees it, masks are medical devices.
``Parents should have the rights to make medical decisions for their children,'' Chaplik said.
He said it's no different than schools having to ask parental consent for everything from giving a child an aspirin to going on a field trip.
``Parents want to have control over their children,'' Chaplik said.
He said nothing in his legislation precludes parents from having their kids wear masks. So, Chaplik said, if a parent buys a mask for a child and sends it with him or her to school, that would be considered ``express consent.''
Similarly, he said, schools could come up with a form to send to parents.
Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix, said the legislation ignores the guidance of national and global health officials who say that masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID. And the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, in its own recommendations updated just last month, says students, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools should wear face coverings while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Liguori also said she isn't buying the idea that parents have absolute control over health decisions affecting their children.
Arizona requires anyone younger than 16 wear a seat belt while in a vehicle. And child restraint seats are required for those younger than 8 if they are less than 4-foot-10-inches tall.
``I don't want to argue that seat belts should be a parental choice when we have data that it saves people's lives,'' Liguori said.
``This is about parental consent for minors,'' Chaplik responded, not addressing the seat belt issue.
Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said it's wrong to say that mandatory masks are a health issue.
``The only one here following the science is the bill sponsor,'' he said.
``As the CDC has says, cloth masks and regular masks, they don't do anything,'' Hoffman said. ``They do absolutely nothing in terms of blocking disease, slowing the spread, stopping the spread. That's not what they're designed for.''
And he said that schools are not providing N95 masks -- those designed to stop the spread of virus -- to children.
``The reality is, the science is on the side that kids should not be forced to wear masks,'' Hoffman continued.
``This is not a political argument,'' he said. ``This is a medical science argument.''
The CDC does say that some masks and respirators offer higher levels of protection to others. The agency also says that some type of masks ``may be harder to tolerate or wear consistently than others.''
But the CDC also calls masks a ``critical public health tool'' to prevent the spread of COVID.
``And it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask,'' the agency says.
Hoffman, however, said he relies on ``health professionals at the highest levels, especially medical doctors'' who support the idea that kids should not be forced to wear masks.
``There's a very big difference between an actual medical doctor and a public health professional,'' he said, saying there are ``adverse health officials for kids when they're forced to wear masks.''
``This is as common-sense as you can possibly get,'' Hoffman said.
The measure needs a vote of the full House before going to the Senate.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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