Opponents to the Bentonville School District rule on mask use found a friendlier setting in state court today.
40/29 reports that Circuit Judge Xollie Duncan has ruled that only the governor or the Department of Health have authority to issue mask mandates or set quarantine rules. Travis Story, attorney for the plaintiffs, said no masks will be required in Bentonville schools tomorrow because of the judge’s temporary restraining order.
As recently as today, Governor Hutchinson expressed support for mask-wearing in schools, but he continues to resist ordering them. A state law prohibiting mask mandates was struck down by a Pulaski County circuit judge, but that case is on appeal and doesn’t serve as precedent in Benton County.
Also, the Benton County case decided today was stripped of arguments made in an initial lawsuit that the rule violated U.S. constitutional protections. The school district moved that case to federal court, where a judge agreed that he had jurisdiction. The plaintiffs then withdrew that case and filed an amended complaint in state court, stripped of U.S. constitutional arguments.
The School District noted that the Arkansas Supreme Court had denied a stay of the Pulaski judge’s restraining order against the state ban on mask mandates. The district argued that state law DOES give the board the ability to take measures to protect students’ health and that it’s important in the district qualifying for federal pandemic relief and meeting CDC guidelines.
The rule covers children aged 3 through 12th grade.
Story’s arguments included a reference to a pro-segregation ruling of the Faubus era in which an Arkansas court inveighed in 1959 against the influence of the federal government, through money and other roles, in public schools. That ruling said federal “interference” in public school operations cannot be justified. However, “ignoble” that ruling, the plaintiffs said, it is a relevant argument.
Interesting to note that 40/29 coverage quotes parents as saying they were fighting for their children’s “constitutional rights.” That issue was intentionally avoided in the state lawsuit.