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Battle over Arizona school mask mandates hits the courtroom

Gov. Doug Ducey's order would make mask mandates illegal and goes into effect at the end of September.

ARIZONA, USA — The fight over masks in the classroom is now in the courtroom.

Last week the Phoenix Union High School District implemented a mask mandate for its schools. But back in June, the state legislature passed a law as part of a state budget proposal banning mask mandates in schools. 

The new law is set to go into effect on Sept. 29 but includes a clause to make it retroactive.

Phoenix Union’s lawyers claim that the soon-to-be law is not a law yet, and does not apply. 

A district science teacher, Douglas Hester, filed a lawsuit to do away with the law.

“It is an interesting time for exactly the reason we know what the policy is, but it is not technically effective,” Michael Bailey, former US attorney for the District of Arizona said.

Bailey said the mandate violates what is clearly the state’s policy even if it doesn’t violate a law. However, he said there is a strong argument to be made the law does not apply right now.

The law's retroactive clause could impact how districts might try to enforce their mandate. 

“If the district enforces this. Any discipline action they take against a student or teacher could come back to haunt them once the statute takes effect because it applies back to June 2021,” Bailey said.

Depending on how the judge rules, schools could be in a weird limbo. Where state law doesn’t actually prohibit districts from having mask mandates, but any discipline handed out by schools could create problems once the law does go into effect.

A court hearing is scheduled for August 14.

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