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School District-wide Mask Mandates Are Unlikely This Fall In Oklahoma. But What About In Individual Classrooms?

A new state law prohibits school districts from mandating students wear masks. But what about individual teachers in their own classrooms?

Senate Bill 658 does not specifically address teachers, instead saying a mask mandate can only be implemented during a Governor-declared state of emergency by boards governing an educational institution in the state.

So it might seem like a teacher could require students to wear a mask in their individual classroom.

But it’s not that simple, according to Oklahoma’s State Department of Education.

“Although the statutory language itself doesn't address potential classroom-level mask policies, it would not be authorized for an individual teacher to set a literal mandate for wearing a mask in their classroom, in the same way a teacher couldn't impose a different dress code to apply specifically in their classroom and eject or penalize students who don't follow those classroom-specific variations on board adopted policies,” according to a statement sent to StateImpact by department spokeswoman Carrie Burkhart.

That doesn’t mean a teacher can’t request students wear a mask in their classroom or even provide a student with a mask.

“A district could potentially adopt a policy restricting this as well, but we're not aware of anything like that so far, and such a policy could presumably be challenged by a teacher with significant health risks,” Burkhart wrote.

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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