The Latest on Masks in Connecticut Schools: The Legislature Begins to Act
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Last night, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed (as amended) House Bill 5047 (“An Act Concerning The Extension Of Certain Executive Orders And Department Of Public Health Authority”). The bill awaits a vote in the Senate that is scheduled for Monday, February 14, 2022.  Parenthetically, those provisions providing for “COVID relief days” and shortening the school year were removed from the bill that passed. In the absence of any action, the Executive Orders would expire on February 15, 2022.   

What does the bill actually say?  On one hand, the bill technically extends until June 30, 2022 the provisions of prior executive orders authorizing masks or cloth face coverings to be required in schools (and specifically, those provisions empowering the Department of Public Health (DPH) to issue guidance and list facilities where masks are required and empowering the State Department of Education (SDE) and the Office of Early Childhood to issue operational rules including requiring masks).  On the other hand, the bill provides that any rule, order, directive or other guidance issued by the Commissioners of Education, Early Childhood or Public Health pursuant to these executive orders that rescinds such requirement for mask in schools cannot take effect any earlier than February 28, 2022   

So, what does this all mean?  In theory, the bill grants DPH and SDE the continuing authority (if they choose to exercise it) to issue guidance or orders requiring the use of masks in schools up until June 30, 2022. Conversely, however, the bill also allows these agencies to rescind mask requirements as of February 28, 2022.  It is the expressed intent of DPH and SDE (not to mention the Governor) to repeal the statewide mask mandate as of February 28, 2022.  However, we await the actual guidance (or “rule, order or directive”) from DPH and SDE actually doing so. 

So, what might this guidance contain? Good question.  Here is my best guestimate.  In addition to lifting the statewide school mask mandate, such guidance (or “rule, order or directive”) will probably 1) confirm the fact that it is now a local decision as to whether a school district (or a charter school or private school) can impose its own  mask mandate if it so chooses, 2) set forth some recommendations in helping schools make their masking decisions, 3) set forth those circumstances where DPH or SDE could reimpose a mask mandate, and 4) remind schools where masks may still be required (for example, they may still be required on buses in light of federal orders).  Stay tuned for further developments. 

Please contact one of Pullman & Comley’s education law attorneys if you have any questions or concerns regarding vaccination, and mask issues, related student and employment issues (including any bargaining demands by unions), or any other COVID-19 compliance issues.    

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Alerts, commentary, and insights from the attorneys of Pullman & Comley’s School Law practice on federal and Connecticut law as it pertains to educational institutions, whether those institutions be public school districts, private K-12 schools, or post-secondary colleges and universities.

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