A letter urging Gov. John Bel Edwards to rescind his face mask mandate for public school students and supposedly signed by 19 Republican lawmakers has sparked controversy because some legislators said their names were improperly attached to the message.

Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, who spearheaded the effort, said Thursday a second letter would be going out to the governor, possibly Saturday.

Edwards on Aug. 2 re-imposed his face mask mandate because of rising cases in the delta variant of the coronavirus, including K-12 students.

Edmonston sent a letter dated Aug. 9 with the names of 18 other House Republicans urging the governor to rescind the mask mandate for students.

But at least one lawmaker whose name was on it said said it was attached without permission, and there were questions from others on the list too.

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, said she agreed to add her name and offered some suggestions when the letter was being drafted.

"But there was some suggestion about changing the approach and I was kind of under the impression that is what we were doing," Emerson said.

"I was a little surprised that she sent the letter."

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Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, left, speaks with Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, during the legislative session earlier this year. 

Some officials complained privately that Edmonston jumped the gun ahead of another message in the works backed by far more of the 68-member House GOP delegation.

Edwards vehemently defended his mask mandate in an Aug. 11 letter to Senate leaders after they raised questions about the issue.

The governor said 569 children 5-17 tested positive for the virus in early July compared to 5,113 in early August.

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"This is indisputable evidence that the delta variant is running rampant among our children, right at the very time when schools are starting," Edwards said in his letter to Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette and Senate President Pro Tem Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton.

"Without a requirement that our kids return to school wearing face coverings we will have created the perfect environment for delta to strengthen its hold in Louisiana," he said.

Cortez said his and Mizell's letter stemmed from the heavy number of calls and emails from senators about face masks.

"Our request is that you allow the decision for students and masks to be made by local districts under the guidance of the state Superintendent of Education," the Aug. 10 Senate letter says.

"Local district leaders know their communities and can address the concerns of parents. Our effort is to restore control to those who also have the best interest of Louisiana's children at heart."

Edmonston's letter noted that, before Edwards issued his face mask mandate for students and others, state education officials said they would defer to local school systems on whether to require masks.

"After all, parents know what is best for their children," Edmonston wrote.

"Many children have already suffered from social, emotional and mental distress related to masking."

Edmonston is a former member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is set to take up the issue of face masks on Wednesday.

Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion last week that said BESE, not the governor, has the final say on whether masks are required.

Edwards said Landry's opinion is wrong.

Check back with The Advocate for more details.

Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.

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