Lonoke Circuit Judge Barbara Elmore this morning refused to block the Cabot School District’s requirement of face coverings in its school as a pandemic safety measure.
Parents had sued the district claiming a parental rights violation by the masks. Their attorney is Travis Story, who’s also challenged a mask rule in Bentonville.
The judge first found that only one of the plaintiffs had standing to sue — others had received exemptions on various grounds (including a curious religious exemption) or had no children in the district’s schools. Only Melissa Bosch, a leader of the effort, has two children in school who are required to wear a mask. Another of her children is said to have special needs and is exempt.
To issue a temporary restraining order, the judge said, the plaintiffs had to demonstrate irreparable harm. She said the petition failed to establish that. The two children still may attend school or seek home or private school alternatives. And she said Bosch had not exhausted her remedies by requesting an exemption.
She said the petitioners thus had failed to establish a need for a restraining order.
The school district has noted that the mask policy is just one of many policies in the district handbook, including dress codes, and the district considers the mask mandate to be part of the dress code.
Story has yet to lay out a constitutional argument on mask-wearing.
The district commented on Facebook:
The district’s 30 Day Face Covering Policy will remain in effect and will be reviewed in the near future by the Cabot School Board.
The district does not have any further comment on this matter. Media questions can be directed to Bequette, Billingsley & Kees P.A. at 501-374-1107.
I’m seeking further comment, particularly only the school district’s “religious exemption.” Seems like an invitation to wholesale claim. And, by the way, the Bible is full of references to mask-wearing, including for health reasons. Google it.
UPDATE: A response from superintendent Tony Thurman for a comment on today’s ruling and the religious exemption:
1) We are pleased with Judge Elmore’s decision regarding the TRO. We believe that students need to be in school unless they are sick. Since we opened on the 16th through yesterday, we have NOT sent 1,264 students home that are not sick for being in close contact with someone that has tested positive. This is because everyone was wearing a face covering. We’ve had 144 students test positive for Covid-19 since last Thursday. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with face coverings, the fact is that we are keeping students at school and learning because of the policy.
2) We have allowed parents to submit written statements to the district requesting religious exemptions. We have also made it clear that if their child is identified as a close contact with someone that tests positive for Covid-19, they will be directed to quarantine at home for the required period of time.
I’ve asked a followup on how a religious exemption is determined — specifically what religious argument is offered against mask-wearing.
UPDATE: Leila Seigrist, the district’s director of human resources and legal affairs responded:
Most religious exemption requests include citations to the Bible, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Article 2, Section 25 of the Arkansas Constitution and describe “truly held religious beliefs.”
Bosch indicated in a lengthy Facebook video that the battle is not over. She thinks the judge, governor and school district don’t understand the law as well as she does. I think from her remarks that the door the district has left open for exemptions may come back to haunt them.
And more here: