Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly member says requiring children to wear masks in schools is ‘criminal child abuse’

Anchorage Assembly member Jamie Allard in an interview this week said she believes requiring children to wear masks in public schools is criminal child abuse.

Allard, a vocal opponent of the city’s previous mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions, first made the statement in a column on a conservative website last week. It was published ahead of an Anchorage School Board meeting considering the school district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan. The plan recommended requiring students and staff, in most cases, to wear masks indoors during the upcoming school year.

“I also agree with those who believe that masking children is nothing short of criminal child abuse. Don’t do it, Anchorage School Board,” wrote Allard.

On Tuesday, the Anchorage School Board accepted the district’s plan.

Asked about her statement in the column in an interview Tuesday, Allard, who represents Chugiak/Eagle River, said believes those who require children to wear masks, without the consent of parents, should face legal consequences — including Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop, who is in charge of the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.

“The superintendent is not an elected official, and I believe anybody who masks our kids should absolutely, without the written permission of the parent, should absolutely be forced, or be held accountable legally, and should be, in my opinion, punished,” Allard said.

Allard during the interview said that making children wear masks in schools takes away the parent’s right to choose, with their medical provider, whether their child should wear one. She said she believes it takes a toll on the mental health of children, makes it more difficult for children to talk, to understand others who are speaking, especially for those who are hearing impaired, and makes it more difficult to concentrate in school classrooms. Allard also said requirements to wear masks are government overreach: “They use science as an excuse. It’s not, it’s politics and it’s control,” she said.

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“Not enabling that child to speak properly, hear properly — be able to read lips — and to breathe properly. So if you can’t as a child, breathe properly — your mouth is covered and your nose — that’s an issue,” Allard said.

“...It’s a form of criminal abuse. Yes. Mental and physical,” Allard said.

Asked about Allard’s comments, Bishop said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that her focus is “on getting kids back in school.“

“We are going to have an excellent school year. The best thing about masking is that with new guidance from the CDC, properly masked students will not be required to quarantine if deemed a close contact. This means more time in school, furthering student learning and success,” Bishop said.

Bishop and Anchorage School Board members heard hours of testimony against the mask requirement at the meeting Tuesday, though a number of testifiers also spoke in favor of the policy.

The CDC now recommends everyone in K-12 schools wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also recommended that schools implement a universal masking policy for everyone over the age of 2.

Criminal child abuse under Anchorage municipal code is a misdemeanor, said Anchorage attorney Jeffrey Robinson.

A person commits child abuse if the person recklessly causes or permits a child to be physically injured, or negligently causes or permits a child to be tortured, cruelly confined, or cruelly punished.

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Robinson described the conduct covered under the city code as “incredibly serious,” and said that requiring children to wear masks in schools would be unlikely to be considered criminal child abuse by city police, prosecutors or a jury.

“The recommendations from public health and medical experts are intended to protect against the spread of a virus ... Accordingly, masking – a protective measure – does not fail within the type of ‘child abuse’ conduct delineated in the statute,” Robinson said.

He said that he has not heard of any cases in which a criminal abuse charge has been brought over children wearing masks.

“No reasonable prosecutor would charge the superintendent with this ‘crime’ and no reasonable juror would convict. No reasonable juror would believe that wearing a mask is designed to ‘torture, cruelly confine, cruelly punish, or physically injure a child,’” Robinson said.

Anchorage Assembly Health Policy Committee Chair Kameron Perez-Verdia said he does not agree with Allard’s statements that the mask policy amounts to criminal child abuse.

“I think that the school board and the superintendent are stepping into this very difficult decision and doing it in good faith, and really listening to all of the information and listening to the public, and trying to make a decision based on what’s best for kids and parents and teachers and staff,” he said.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, on his first day in office, issued a mayoral directive that no masks would be required in city buildings.

But that directive does not apply to Anchorage School District buildings, according to Matt Shuckerow, interim spokesman for the mayor’s office.

“Under Alaska law, Anchorage School District has management authority of its budget and its district-wide operations,” Shuckerow said by email. “Thus, the school district determines its own policies in school district buildings and the school district is not under the authority of the mayor’s directive regarding masks in MOA buildings.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct definition of criminal child abuse in Anchorage. An earlier version of this story had used the city’s previous definition, which the Anchorage Assembly voted to change in June.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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