Arkansas court reverses ruling against schools’ mask mandate

April 14, 2022 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a judge’s decision to block a school district’s mask mandate that was implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Justices reversed the temporary restraining order issued against the Bentonville School District’s mask requirement. Bentonville was among dozens of districts that imposed a mask requirement last year after a state law banning such mandates was blocked in a separate case. A group of parents had sued challenging the mandate.

The court said that Arkansas’ laws give schools broad authority to determine their policies.

“Based on this precedent, we conclude that the district properly authorized its policy,” Chief Justice Dan Kemp wrote in the court’s ruling.

A spokeswoman said the district has no plans to reinstate the mask requirement at this time.

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“From the outset of our appeal, we’ve maintained the lower court’s ruling puts school boards and school administrators in a position to face litigation each time a family doesn’t agree with a policy affecting their child,” Spokeswoman Leslee Wright said in a statement. “The Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling reaffirms a school board’s authority to create an environment that protects students, to the best of their ability, while at school.”

In a separate opinion, Special Justice Howard Brill said parents have a right to be informed and to be heard on issues such as whether masks should be worn. But, Brill wrote, that doesn’t mean they have the right to “micromanage” schools.

“If parents are dissatisfied with the school board decisions, they have a remedy,” wrote Brill, who was appointed to hear the case after Justice Rhonda Wood recused. “It is the ballot box.”

An attorney for the parents who sued over mandate said he was disappointed in the decision.

“The court’s effectively decided against parental rights in the state of Arkansas and that’s something we’re really disappointed in,” Travis Story said.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Barbara Webb wrote that the court was giving school boards “unlimited control of children in public school.”

“Using this broad interpretation of the statute, decisions about a child’s health care, medication, and gender identity will fall under the school board’s power to mandate in the name of an ‘efficient’ and ‘free’ education,” Webb wrote.

A Pulaski County judge in December struck down an Arkansas law banning schools and other government entities from requiring masks. The state’s appeal of that decision is pending before the Arkansas Supreme Court.