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Alabama lawmaker proposes opt-out for school mask requirements; parental consent for vaccines

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Alabama House of Representatives teaser

The Alabama House of Representatives meets on Jan. 8, 2019, during its organizational session.

A state lawmaker has pre-filed two COVID-19-related bills on mask requirements in public schools and vaccines for minors.

Rep. Chip Brown, R-Mobile, is sponsoring one bill that says parents can opt their children out of mask requirements in K-12 public schools by notifying the school or the local board of education in writing. It would apply to mask requirements at school, school functions, school buses, and school bus stops, according to the bill.

“To me it’s a parental rights bill,” Brown said. “By mandating something on children, we’re basically telling the parents their supervision of their children doesn’t matter. So, I think it goes back to who’s raising the child. And I think in the end, parents should have the right to opt out, if they want to opt out.”

Alabama does not have a statewide mask policy for public schools but is leaving that decision to school districts. The Alabama Department of Public Health does recommend masking in public schools, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

As of Friday, 58 of Alabama’s 149 public school districts, magnet and charter schools, including some of the largest in the state, said they required masks. A system-by-system list is included in this story: One in three Alabama schools now requires students to wear masks

Mobile County Public Schools in Brown’s district is one of the systems that has a mask requirement. Brown said he has heard from parents across the state about the issue.

Brown is sponsoring a second bill that would require parental notification for minors, 18 and under, to receive vaccines. Under current law, 14 is the age of consent for vaccines and other medical decisions in Alabama. Brown’s bill would repeal that consent authority for vaccines of all types, not just COVID-19 vaccines.

Children and teens age 12 and older are eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Brown said he was not aware of young teens 14 and older receiving COVID vaccines without parental consent in Alabama.

“This isn’t an anti-vaccine bill, by any means,” Brown said. “Any parent that wants to allow their child to get a vaccine, then, by all means do it. But what this does is just allows the parents to have the final say. It’s the parents’ child. They have rights. And I think this addresses that.”

The legislative session begins Jan. 22.