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Anti-mask protesters gather ahead of lawmakers' vote on school mandate

The statewide school mask mandate continued to take center stage as the Connecticut General Assembly opened its regular session on Wednesday. The mandate is one of Gov. Ned Lamont’s 11 executive orders lawmakers are considering extending.

As Lamont and lawmakers rolled out opening day remarks for the start of the legislative session, Bethany resident Susan Marsh rallied outside the state Capitol to protest the mandate.

“Just say it’s gone. You can choose to wear it or not, that’s it, we should just remove the mask mandate altogether,” she said.

Lamont’s emergency powers expire Feb. 15, and he has recommended that the statewide school mask mandate end Feb. 28. He wants to give local school districts the power to decide on all future mask rules.

But the legislature has to sign off on the executive order for the school mask mandate to continue until Feb. 28. The House is expected to vote Thursday on whether to make Lamont’s remaining executive orders into law. The Senate will vote Monday.

State officials said if the legislature votes to lift the mandate, local schools can make their own rules. If the state departments of Public Health and Education determine there’s a need for another mandate, they have the authority to override local decisions.

Democratic House Speaker Matt Ritter said unless there’s another surge, he doesn’t think another mandate will happen.

“We think it’s highly unlikely, but you know what, no one saw omicron coming. And we had a 35% positivity rate in Stamford. I mean, at some point if that happens again, and we don’t think it will, we have to be able to respond in real time and quickly. That’s the compromise,” he said.

Republican state Sen. Kevin Kelly doesn’t think the state should overrule local school districts.

“That would be the difference in the way we approach the same situation. We’re saying the local board should have the control and be able to look at that, not the state’s top-down management style.”

State public health and education leaders have said their agencies will continue to provide guidance to local schools.