President Joe Biden called the head of Phoenix Union High School District after the district implemented mask requirements that may be contrary to state law, praising Superintendent Chad Gestson for the move. In a statement, Biden said he told Geston during his Friday phone call that he “did the right thing.”
The issue is currently under litigation in Maricopa County Superior Court. Numerous state legislators asked Governor Doug Ducey a few days ago to take action against the school districts in violation, and Ducey responded on Tuesday with a directive financially penalizing the districts. They will not receive any of the $163 million that the state got through the American Rescue Plan to boost per-pupil funding. Students in those districts will receive vouchers to attend schools elsewhere.
Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), who refused to vote for the education budget bill unless it contained the ban on mask mandates due to his concern about the effects of masks on children, told The Arizona Sun Times, “Given President Biden’s busy schedule overseeing the many historic failures of his administration — like ushering in the total collapse of Afghanistan, eliminating America’s energy independence, crushing hardworking families with runaway price inflation, spending our grandchildren into debt, and destroying our freedoms with yet another wave of COVID and vaccine mandates — I’m surprised he had the time to comment on the unlawful actions of a rogue government bureaucrat in Arizona.”
Biden also called interim Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright in Florida to praise her mask mandate. A White House spokesperson said the calls were made because “governors have enacted bad public health measures.” Nine states are currently undergoing similar conflicts between schools and red state governments. In blue states, the opposite scenario is occurring. School districts in Floyd, New Mexico and Biggsville, Illinois refuse to implement the mask mandates ordered by Govs. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and J.B. Pritzker (D).
On Sunday, the Texas Supreme Court issued a temporary ruling barring mask mandates issued by officials in Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, siding with Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Abbott came down with COVID-19 after getting vaccinated. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said he may withhold the salaries of the school officials responsible for implementing mask mandates against his order. The Biden administration jumped in and said it would pay the salaries. The Florida State Board of Education is considering removing two officials in Alachua County and Broward County over it.
COVID-19 is not surging in Arizona like it is in other parts of the country. The most recent data from Worldometer shows a small increase in cases and zero change in the death rate. Louisiana and Kentucky, two states that still require masks in schools, are experiencing surges. DeSantis says masks don’t make enough difference in school-age children to be required through blanket statewide or local policies.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons opposes mandatory masks in schools and has a lengthy analysis of their effectiveness and negative health implications on its site.
Phoenix Union is one of the largest school districts in Arizona. At least 12 school districts have followed its lead. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall Warner ruled Monday that a lawsuit by a Phoenix Union high school biology teacher may go ahead, but he stopped short of slapping a temporary injunction on the mask mandate. The schools contend that the law doesn’t go into effect until September 8, but the state says a retroactive clause included in the legislation made it effective June 30. Warner agreed with the school about the timing but said the district failed to cite a legal authority showing the Legislature overstepped its bounds with the new law. Warner was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and clerked for former liberal Arizona Supreme Court Justice n.
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