State Board of Education won’t issue order mandating masks in Nebraska schools

The Nebraska State Board of Education on Tuesday said it will not issue a declaratory order that would mandate masks in schools as requested by the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA).
Mask

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – The Nebraska State Board of Education on Tuesday said it will not issue a declaratory order that would mandate masks in schools as requested by the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA).

The NSEA asked in November for the order that would require all students and staff to wear masks in all Nebraska schools, as well as implement additional COVID-19 related measures for schools.

“After careful consideration, the request was declined as the board does not have the authority, by law, to issue such health mandate,” state education officials said in a news release. “Nebraska state law gives local boards of education the authority to make rules and regulations concerning the health of students in public schools. Therefore, the board believes local school districts have the power to require masks in their schools. By law, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also has the ability to issue Directed Health Measures (DHMs) that could require masks in schools.”

The Board said it “fully realizes the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all schools,” and that it supports districts that have mask mandates. It also recommended a mask mandate in a resolution last month.

The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) as a whole commends the educators and staff who continuously provide high-quality teaching during one of the most challenging times of our generation.

The NSEA responded Tuesday afternoon with a statement reiterating its desire for the mandate and other safety protocols.

“We are extremely disappointed in the State Board of Education’s decision to deny our request,” the statement said in part. “Frankly, the Board’s attempt to stand behind legal justifications for its failure to act lacks credibility.  Earlier this year the Board did not hesitate to grant a similar request by school administrators for a declaratory order relieving school districts from many regulatory obligations during the pandemic. In granting relief to school districts, the Board delegated broad authority to the Commissioner to grant administrators with “flexibility” in complying with nearly all statutory and regulatory requirements involving school operations, ranging from textbook returns to continued accreditation. Now, when faced with a simple request by the NSEA – which represents nearly 28,000 classroom teachers and education support professionals – to identify the basic mitigations associated with safe school operations in a pandemic, the Board claims a lack of legal authority to do so.”

The statement went on to say the Board “has joined with Governor Ricketts in simply passing the buck as opposed to taking a firm stand in support of the safety protocols scientists and medical professionals say we must follow to get this virus under control so we can keep our kids in school and in our classrooms.”

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