Judge Blocks Arkansas From Banning Mask Mandates for Schools
An Arkansas judge on Friday temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a ban on mask mandates, including public schools, after lawmakers left the prohibition in place.
Pulaski County Judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction against the mandate, saying that it discriminated between public and private schools. The order came several hours after Arkansas’s state Legislature ended a special session and didn’t vote on the ban on mask mandates.
Fox, who was elected, wrote his opinion in response to the parents of two school-age children who claimed the ban on masks violates the rights of children in public schools.
The law “cannot be enforced in any shape, fashion or form” pending further court action, Fox wrote.
In April, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, signed Act 1002, which prevented government agencies and schools from enforcing COVID-19 mask mandates. The governor requested the special session to overturn the ban on mask mandates, claiming that surge in the Delta variant made him change his mind on the rule.
But Republican lawmakers said they opposed the recent proposal from Hutchinson, who has faced significant criticism from fellow Republicans in his state over other issues in recent months.
The governor, who has said he regretted signing the ban into law, said he agreed with Fox’s decision but didn’t plan to reimpose the statewide mask mandate he lifted in March. He also criticized lawmakers who opposed taking action, saying many of them had taken a “casual, if not cavalier, attitude” toward COVID-19.
“What concerns me is many are simply listening to the loudest voices and not standing up with compassion, common sense, and serious action,” he told reporters Friday.
Before that, he wrote on Twitter that he was unhappy with a GOP-led legislative committee when lawmakers voted against removing the ban on masks.
“It is conservative, reasonable and compassionate to allow local school districts to protect those students who are under 12 and not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine,” Hutchinson wrote. “If we are going to have a successful school year, then the local school districts need to have flexibility to protect those who are at risk.”
The Republican sponsor of the mask mandate ban said he thinks the state needs to focus on other ways to address outbreaks in schools, such as leave for teachers who have to quarantine.
“What I don’t want is this false sense of security that masks seem to be providing because it’s an easy political tool,” said Republican Sen. Trent Garner. “Let’s come up with the real solutions when this happens in our schools, and I think we’re woefully inadequate on that.”
Critics of school mask mandates have said that forcing children to wear face coverings for hours on end in schools may do more harm than good.
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who worked with Florida’s government, told The Epoch Times earlier this year, while citing studies, that “in the case of masks, the evidence that children spread the disease even without a mask is that they’re much less efficient spreaders. It’s not like the flu where children actually are efficient spreaders of the disease.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.