ATLANTA – Georgia school officials will not be allowed to require a student to wear a mask if his or her parents object under legislation that gained final passage in the state House of Representatives Friday.

The bill, which cleared the Republican-controlled chamber 93-52 along party lines, was introduced on behalf of Gov. Brian Kemp, who has fought against mask mandates imposed by local governments and school systems since the coronavirus pandemic struck Georgia two years ago.

“Parents are the best decision-makers when it comes to the health and education of their children,” said Rep. Lauren McDonald, R-Cumming, one of Kemp’s floor leaders in the House and the bill’s chief sponsor. “We need to begin to return to normal. This is the first step toward doing so.”

But House Democrats argued the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and now is not the time to loosen restrictions on mask wearing.

“The virus is here. It’s deadly,” said Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta. “People are still getting sick and having to go to the hospital.”

The “Unmask Georgia Students Act” passed the state Senate 32-19 on March 1, also along party lines. It now heads to Kemp’s desk for his signature.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.