Escalating a political feud, state Attorney General Jeff Landry issued an opinion Friday that said Louisiana's top school board has the final say on face mask rules despite Gov. John Bel Edwards' order that students wear them.
The state of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may tackle the thorny topic when it meets Aug. 17.
The governor branded Landry's comments sad, irresponsible and dangerous.
"I think he is completely wrong," Edwards said.
Landry spelled out his views in response to a question from Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington.
Edwards issued his directive Monday as part of a broader order reimposing Louisiana's indoor face mask mandate amid skyrocketing rates of the coronavirus.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has accused state Attorney General Jeff Landry of causing confusion over face mask rules for children and reiterated tha…
The order has sparked pushback in St. Tammany Parish and other areas, with some parents vehemently objecting to a new round of mandatory mask wearing.
In his five-page opinion, Landry said the Legislature specifically gave the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to spell out safety protocols.
"This office is of the opinion that directives as to the safety protocols to be observed by teachers and students present at school facilities during the school day are themselves a vital aspect of education over which BESE holds constitutional and statutory authority to oversee," the document says.
"Additionally, BESE may adopt rules providing guidelines for local school boards to adopt such policies considering factors specific to the school district, such as the percent positivity rate of the district, event settings, group composition, physical distance between students in the classroom, activity engaged in and other relevant criteria," according to the opinion.
"BESE finds within the state Constitution its authority to supervise and control education in this state, and the Legislature is the only other entity with constitutional authority to regulate education in Louisiana on a statewide basis," it says.
BESE President Sandy Holloway said Friday she got a call from Landry, who told her the opinion was coming.
Officials said Friday was the last day the face mask issue could be added to the board's agenda, which was done.
Holloway said the topic is worth discussing.
"I can't say what the board is going to want to do," she said.
Others said there is sentiment on the 11-member panel to enact some sort of policy that leaves the face mask and other COVID-19 safety issues up to local school systems.
The board earlier said it would defer to the state's 69 school districts on how they handle COVID-19 safety rules.
The governor's order earlier this week that K-12 students wear the masks appeared to override that stance.
Deferring to local school systems again could put BESE on a collision course with the governor, who names three members.
BESE in July 2020 approved minimum safety standards for the reopening of public schools, including a recommendation that students and adults wear face masks.
Landry noted those standards expired on June 30.
During an 80-minute briefing on the virus, Edwards blasted Landry's views on face masks for students.
"The fact of the matter is I have the authority and the obligation under the current circumstances to declare public health emergencies," he said.
"Not only is he wrong but he is going out of his way to undermine public confidence in mitigation measures ... at a time when we need it more than ever."
"It is sad. It is regrettable. It is also irresponsible and it is dangerous."
In a Facebook post, the Louisiana Democratic Party said, "AG Jeff Landry is a public health threat."
Attorney general opinions are advisory and do not carry the same weight as a state law.
Democrat Edwards and Republican Landry have bickered for months on how to respond to the pandemic.
The governor has repeatedly said his orders are aimed at curbing a virus outbreak that has made Louisiana a national hot spot.
Landry's opinion says the state "has been under a perpetual state of emergency" since March, 2020 and that Edwards latest order "purportedly" applies to public schools without specifically mentioning masks.
It also says the governor's directive does not say where he gets his authority for the latest set of rules.
The Louisiana Republican Party joined the fray Friday in a fundraising appeal.
"John Bel Edwards has re-introduced the mask mandate in Louisiana, even in schools where our children ought to be focused on learning rather than wearing a mask."
"There seems to be no end to the mandates, so we have to fight back," the GOP said.