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Health Officials Slam 'Irresponsible' Workarounds on Mask Rules

Doctors, religious and community leaders, school officials, others helping parents circumvent masking
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 21, 2021 9:15 AM CDT
School Officials, Doctors Offer Advice on Avoiding Mask Rules
Alsea School District Superintendent Marc Thielman reads over the language of a federal disability anti-discrimination law in his office on the school campus in this Friday photo in Alsea, Ore.   (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

(Newser) – An Oregon school superintendent is telling parents they can get their children out of wearing masks by citing federal disability law. A pastor at a California megachurch is offering religious exemptions for anyone morally conflicted over vaccine requirements. And Louisiana's attorney general has posted sample letters on his office's Facebook page for those seeking to get around the governor's mask rules. Across the US, religious figures, doctors, public officials, and other community leaders are trying to help people circumvent COVID-19 precautions, per the AP. While proponents of these workarounds say they're looking out for children's health and parents' rights, others say such stratagems are dishonest and irresponsible and could undermine efforts to beat back the highly contagious delta variant. Mask and vaccine requirements vary from state to state but often permit exemptions for certain medical conditions or religious or philosophical objections.

  • The superintendent: In Oregon, Superintendent Marc Thielman of the rural Alsea School District told parents they can sidestep the governor's school mask requirement by applying for an accommodation for their children under federal disabilities law. Thielman, says he's not anti-mask but is sensitive to parents' concerns that face coverings can cause anxiety and headaches in children. But Laurie VanderPloeg of the Council for Exceptional Children cautions that kids can't go maskless simply because they asked. Instead, she says, school districts have to go through a formal process to establish whether a child does, in fact, have a particular mental or physical disability that would warrant an exception to the mask rule.
  • The pastor: Pastor Greg Fairrington of Destiny Church in Rocklin, Calif., has issued at least 3,000 religious exemptions to people with objections to the vaccine, which is becoming mandatory in an increasing number of places in the state. He said in a statement that his church has received thousands of calls from doctors, nurses, teachers, and first responders terrified of losing their jobs because they don't want to get vaccinated. "We are not anti-vaccine," he said. "At the same time, we believe in the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The vaccine poses a morally compromising situation for many people of faith."
  • The AG: Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry posted sample letters that would allow parents to seek a philosophical or religious exemption from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' mask rule at schools—or from a vaccine requirement, if enacted. Edwards accuses the attorney general of creating confusion and defends his policy on face coverings. "By adopting these measures—and ignoring those that are unwilling to acknowledge the current crisis—we can keep our kids in school this year and keep them safe," the governor said.
  • Warnings from health officials: Experts such as Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of California-San Francisco, warned that such stratagems will sow confusion about masks and vaccinations. The virus is "looking for fractures in the system," he said, "and we have plenty of fractures in the system."
(Read more face masks stories.)

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