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Bill Would Make It Tougher For Oklahoma School Districts To Require Masks

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The Oklahoma House passed a bill Monday putting restrictions on school districts that choose to require masks.

Senate Bill 658 requires districts consult with their local health department, something many have done as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, but the bill also says districts must list reasons for a mask mandate and specific masks that satisfy it. Otherwise, the requirement is invalidated.

School boards must also reconsider any mask requirement at each regular meeting, and citizens may challenge them if they offer certain kinds of evidence.

Opponents accuse the bill’s author, Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore), of ignoring science saying masks are highly effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

"If you follow the science, children have been proven to be almost completely unaffected by this particular disease," West said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or none at all, but they can spread the virus to others, who may become far sicker.

Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa) said masks have been inconvenient, but they are proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"There’s a dangerous tendency in this chamber to yield to certain elements who want to push back against that science, that want to make it more difficult for us to enforce and practice public safety measures that are going to save lives in our classrooms and in our communities," Waldron said.

SB658 passed 64 to 32. No Democrats voted for the bill, and 14 Republican representatives joined them in voting against it. The bill goes back to the Senate for consideration.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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