BESE to vote on masks in schools, football remains on track

Staff Reports
Plaquemine Post South

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana's top school board will decide Tuesday whether to require students and teachers to wear masks during the COVID crisis, while high school football remains on track for a fall kickoff.

Education and athletic officials shared their plans with the House Education Committee today as the state prepares to reopen schools in August.

Louisiana Education Superintendent Cade Brumley is recommending mask requirements in its reopening plan, but the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will make the final decision when it meets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"Certainly this is a conversation that's emotional when there are different sides and opinions," Brumley told lawmakers. "We're trying to follow the experts on the virus and how to best mitigate the spread."

BESE President Sandy Holloway also testified before the committee: "We know there will be a deep discussion on masks," Holloway said of Tuesday's meeting.

Brumley told the committee he's recommending three principles of protection: wash hands often; wear a face covering; and practice social distancing.

Though Brumley said his recommendation is for students in grades 3-12 and all adults be required to wear masks, he acknowledged he has no means of enforcement.

"It will be a monumental task — a year like no other," he said. "I believe if we follow the guidelines, we'll be able to have a successful year."

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in a letter last week asked BESE to avoid a mask mandate, though he requires people to wear masks when entering his office. Landry did say in the letter masks should be "encouraged."

"We believe that mandating students to wear masks creates a situation that may cross the line on liberty, and also may become a tremendous distraction with enforcement," Landry said in his letter. 

The BESE guidelines will cover almost 1 million people — 800,000 students, 48,000 teachers and 100,000 employees.

While BESE sets guidelines for schools, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association has authority over sports.

The LHSAA canceled spring sports during the pandemic, but executive director Eddie Bonine said football remains on track for a full season.

"At no time has there been any conversation that we were going to cancel any fall sports," Bonine told member of the committee. "There are no proposals of shortening seasons or modifying seasons."

But Bonine said the LHSAA will be mindful of safety.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure we ensure the safety (of players)," he said. "Any and all requirements set forth we will follow religiously."