Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday officially called legislators into special session to create an exception to Act 1002 that will give public school boards flexibility to protect those school children who are 11 and younger and not eligible for a vaccine.
The special session is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 4.
Act 1002, passed this year, prohibits state and local government, including school boards, from requiring people to wear a mask. Hutchinson said he will ask legislators to provide an exception to the law that would grant each school board the authority to decide whether to require students younger than 12 to wear a mask.
“Under CDC guidelines, students 11 and younger cannot receive the COVID vaccine, and without it, they are at a greater risk of contracting the virus, particularly the Delta variant,” he said. “COVID‐19 impact is escalating among children, particularly those 12 and older, as we have seen in the increased number and severity of COVID‐19 cases at Arkansas Children’s during July… We must allow local school boards to make the best decision for the students in their schools.
“I understand that some legislators are reluctant to allow school boards this freedom, even in this limited way. But the exceptions for which I am asking are true to the conservative principle that puts control in the hands of local government.
“Some argue it should be up to the parents to decide for the children. For that reason, school boards will have many options after listening to the parents. The goal is to be safe and to keep schools open. Local flexibility will help get us there.
Hutchinson also plans to ask members of the General Assembly to affirm the decision of the state director of Workforce Services to terminate Arkansas’s participation in federal unemployment benefit and relief programs related to COVID-19.
“It is more important that we reduce the number of unemployed and put more people to work than it is for the state to accept any federal relief programs related to unemployment,” he said.