Education Reform

Arkansas Judge Halts Mask Ban; Florida Offers Vouchers to Students Who Don’t Want to wear Masks

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Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas called a special session of the legislature to throw out the law he signed that forbade mask mandates. The legislature refused to do it. A judge acted and issued a preliminary injunction against the ban.

Florida offered vouchers to students forced to wear a mask. Parents sued the state for banning masks in public schools.

From the Washington Post:

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) had signed the ban against mask mandates in April but later supported rolling it back for schools. He argued that allowing individual school districts to make this decision was a conservative approach that boosted local control.

Hutchinson called the legislature back for a special session to reconsider the law, but lawmakers declined to make changes. The governor told reporters Friday that he was disappointed in the legislature and criticized some who he described as having a “casual if not cavalier attitude toward this public health emergency and toward this remedy that I suggested to them.”

Hutchinson’s comments came after a judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the law. The governor said the judge had properly ruled that the law “is unconstitutional and an overreach of authority.”

Friday’s order, issued by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, ruled against the state on several grounds. The judge ruled that such intrusions into another branch of government’s actions amounted to an unconstitutional breach on the separation of powers. He also noted that while public schools were barred from mandating masks, private schools were not.

Tom Mars, attorney for two mothers who challenged the ban, noted that under the law, the court itself was prohibited from ordering those at the hearing to don masks — something that Fox himself had in fact ordered.

Back in Florida, opponents to DeSantis’s order have pointed to skyrocketing coronavirus cases in the state in recent weeks. Florida reported 22,783 new cases Thursday, the highest single-day count since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Several districts have threatened to defy the order. Alachua County, where the University of Florida is located, is mandating masks for the first two weeks of school amid a rise in coronavirus cases. Two school custodians in the district had recently died of covid-19.

Broward County had imposed a mask mandate but put it on pause after DeSantis threatened to withhold state funding from districts that required masks. Now it has reversed itself again. Masks must be worn by everyone in Broward public schools, the school board decided this week.

DeSantis faced another challenge to his order Friday, as the parents of 15 children with disabilities who attend Florida public schools filed suit, saying his executive order barring mask mandates interfered with their rights under federal disability rights laws. The suit says the children are at severe health risk if they get covid-19 and want to be protected in schools every possible way, including with everyone wearing masks.

Under Friday’s action by the state board, children in districts with mandates could qualify for vouchers to attend private schools, though it was not clear how much money would be dedicated to the program or how many students might benefit.

The Florida state school board did not respond to a woman who spoke in the public comments section of the meeting to ask whether the vouchers would be available for students who want mask mandates and attend districts that do not require them.

The program, called the Hope Scholarship, normally is available to students who have been harassed or bullied in their public schools. Under the emergency order, the vouchers are available “when a school district’s COVID-19 health protocols, including masking, pose a health or educational danger to their child.”

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