With Gov. Little out of state, McGeachin bans mask mandates in Idaho

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin signed an executive order Thursday prohibiting mask mandates in Idaho, including in the state’s schools.

It’s a surprise political move from McGeachin, who last week announced she is running for governor.

Gov. Brad Little is out of state this week, press secretary Marissa Morisson Hyer said. In Idaho, lieutenant governors serve in place of a sitting governor who is out of state or otherwise unfit to serve.

McGeachin did not tell Little’s office about her executive order in advance, Morrison Hyer said.

Melissa Davlin, with Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports,” confirmed with the secretary of state’s office that McGeachin’s order went into effect at 11 a.m. Thursday.

McGeachin told “Idaho Reports” that her primary concern was students having to wear masks in schools, saying, “it’s just especially hard” to see.

The Idaho School Boards Association says it doesn’t believe McGeachin’s executive order can take away districts’ statutory ability to require masks.

In an email, ISBA policy director Quinn Perry cited Idaho code 33-512, which includes a provision allowing districts to “protect the morals and health of the pupils.”

“It is our considered view that Executive Order No. 2021-07 cannot effectively suspend existing mask or facial covering requirements for school districts and charter schools which were put in place by boards empowered by statute and constitution to take such actions,” Perry wrote.

ISBA is continuing to evaluate the issue with legal council, she said.

School mask requirements have been up to local school boards throughout the pandemic. Little has refused to institute a statewide mask mandate, or to ban mask mandates, despite pressure from both sides of the political aisle.

Some districts have required masks indoors during the pandemic, while others never instituted a mask mandate. Earlier this month, the Idaho Falls, Nampa and Pocatello-Chubbuck school districts made masks optional in light of easing COVID-19 restrictions.

The Boise and West Ada school districts still require masks indoors. Thursday was Boise’s last day of school, but West Ada has a couple more weeks on its academic calendar.

West Ada sent parents an email following McGeachin’s announcement saying the district would not change the mask policy during the day on Thursday.

“We are consulting legal counsel regarding the School Boards’ statutory authority … to enforce certain health and safety protocols,” the email said.

Little is expected back in Idaho Thursday night. He could choose to repeal the executive order with an order of his own, though the decision could precede a heated Republican primary if he decides to run for reelection against McGeachin.

In an update to parents on Thursday night, West Ada said it’s waiting for Little’s office for direction. The district asked parents to “encourage their students to wear masks” on Friday, so the school day can proceed with “as little disruption as possible.”

Idaho EdNews Staff

Idaho EdNews Staff

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