Judge: Phoenix Union can keep mask mandate until new law goes into effect
PHOENIX — A Phoenix school district can continue requiring face masks on campus until a new law goes into effect in September, a Maricopa County judge ruled Monday.
Douglas Hester, a biology teacher at Metro Tech High School, said in a lawsuit that the district’s mask requirement goes against state law but the judge said in the ruling that the law does not go into effect until Sept. 29.
The law, included as part of the state budget signed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, prohibited school districts from requiring students and teachers to wear masks.
However, new laws are not effective until 90 days after the legislative session ends.
The judge did say there is an exception for emergency measures, but it requires a two-thirds vote and the statute was not approved by the needed majority.
Due to this, even though the law was retroactive to June 30, it is not an emergency clause.
“I would interpret a retroactivity clause to mean the statute goes into effect on Sept. 29, and at that moment it’s retroactive,” Judge Randall Warner said during a court hearing on Friday. “This is normally what we do for things like statutes of limitations.”
The district in a statement said it was grateful for the ruling.
“Today’s decision is much larger than PXU – it has the potential to impact the 1.1 million students who call Arizona’s public schools home, as well as their families and the broader community,” the statement read.
“This decision will allow districts across the state to continue to prioritize the health, safety, and wellness of their staff, students, and families.”
Hester was allowed by the judge to file a second amended complaint within 45 days, denying the district’s request for dismissal of the case based on the law not yet being in effect.
His attorney, Alexander Kolodin, said Hester is evaluating the next step in the case.
At least 11 districts and more than 200 schools have imposed mask mandates, accounting for 140,000 students in the state.
While Gov. Doug Ducey previously said districts who buck the law have no merit, he hasn’t taken action against the schools.
“The Legislature in this past legislative session directly addressed mask mandates,” C.J. Karamargin, the governor’s spokesman, previously said.
“The governor signed that bill into law, and the legislative intent is clear, the governor’s priorities are clear. So there should be no question about what the intent is and the goal is.”
Arizona’s public universities, as well as the Valley’s community college system, are also requiring masks in classrooms to begin the school year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.