An Arkansas judge has blocked the state from enforcing a mask mandate ban that includes public schools, according to The Associated Press, with the ruling coming just hours after the state legislature ended a special session without taking action on the ban, even though the session was primarily called to overturn it.
Pulaski County Circuit Jude Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction that will temporarily block the state from banning mask mandates in schools, in response to a lawsuit filed by the parents of two school-aged children claiming the ban violates the rights of children in public schools
A special session of the heavily Republican Arkansas legislature adjourned on Friday morning without lawmakers taking action on overturning a ban on mask mandates, which Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson requested after the delta variant’s surge caused him to change his mind on the ban.
Hutchinson said changes to the ban were needed so schools could mandate masks in order to protect unvaccinated children.
A House panel heard two bills on Thursday that would have exempted public schools from the existing ban, but both bills failed to advance to the full House.
The rampant spread of the delta variant has pushed hospitalizations to a six-month high in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, with 1,251 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 on Thursday.
Arkansas is third, behind only Louisiana and Florida, in new cases per capita, according to a New York Times tracker.
“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 said in response to the House Public Health Committee rejecting bills on Thursday.
Hutchinson signed a bill in April that banned all public mask mandates in Arkansas, but started second-guessing that decision when the delta variant led to skyrocketing cases and hospitalizations. “In hindsight, I wish it had not become law,” the governor said at a news conference on Tuesday. Hutchinson’s reversal on Covid restrictions puts him in stark contrast with other southern Republican governors, like Gov. Greg Abbott in the neighboring state of Texas. Abbott has refused to allow localities to enforce mask mandates, despite hospitalizations now at a higher level than when Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate last year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued guidance last month recommending all students over the age of 2 and all school staff wear masks, regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated.
Virus hospitalizations hit a 6-month high for state (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)