Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Thursday that he will be calling for a special session of the state legislature in order to amend state law to give school boards the ability to implement mask mandates on schoolchildren and faculty. The moment came during a press conference in which the Republican governor reinstated Arkansas’ public health emergency, attributing it to rising COVID-19 cases in the state.
Hutchinson reportedly plans to call for a special session “most likely next week” to “give local school boards, local decisionmakers the authority to make a decision for the public health of those who are 12 and under, or their entire school environment,” by amending Act 1002.
Under Act 1002, state agencies, including schools, are prohibited from mandating that individuals wear face coverings. “The use of a face mask, face shield, or other face covering shall not be a condition for entry, education, or services,” the legislation reads. Private entities and state health care facilities are exempt under the law, however.
During his remarks, Hutchinson claimed he has no plans to issue any statewide mask mandate or constraints on businesses, arguing that “there’s not going to be those kind of restrictions” in Arkansas.
“This is not about a debate about mask mandates for those that can make their own decisions and have the means to get vaccinated,” he said. “This is a discussion about the school environment where schools can make decisions to add to the public health for their own school environment for the children they have the responsibility to protect.”
Despite Hutchinson’s rhetoric, scientific data has long indicated that children are at exceptionally low risk for COVID-19. Moreover, medical studies have consistently shown that children are not primary vectors of the spread of the respiratory virus.
“In this study we estimate susceptibility and infectivity of children compared to those of adults using households data,” a comprehensive Israeli study read. “Using a mathematical model to fit the data, we estimate that children are about half as susceptible to infection as adults, and are somewhat less prone to infect others compared to adults.”