A federal judge said Thursday that a school mask mandate by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) violates state law and blocked the mandate from being enforced in a handful of Catholic schools in northern Kentucky, the latest in a nationwide string of legal and political battles over school mask-wearing as Covid-19 cases surge.
Judge William Bertelsman issued a temporary restraining order against Beshear’s nine-day-old mask mandate for students and teachers in public and private schools, but the order applies only to schools run by the Catholic Diocese of Covington, Beshear’s spokesperson Crystal Staley and Brandon Voelker, the attorney for the plaintiffs — a group of parents at the schools — both confirmed to Forbes.
Bertelsman said Beshear’s mask mandate ran afoul of a law passed by Kentucky’s Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this year that limited the governor’s power to impose emergency executive orders.
Staley warned Thursday’s ruling could put Kentucky students at risk of contracting Covid-19: “We will pursue every avenue and option to ensure that we can protect Kentucky’s children,” she said in an email.
What To Watch For
Beshear and the plaintiffs will return to court Tuesday to discuss a preliminary injunction.
“The Executive Branch cannot simply ignore laws passed by the duly-elected representatives of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Therein lies tyranny,” Bertelsman wrote in his opinion.
“The court ruled without hearing from the Governor and with absolutely no consideration of the consequences of exposure and quarantine that we will see – especially at a time when we are nearly out of staffed hospital beds statewide,” Staley said.
The state law that curtails Beshear’s power has faced legal pushback. A state court in Franklin County blocked the law earlier this year, in a case currently before the Kentucky Supreme Court, but a judge in another county later barred Beshear from issuing any new Covid-related orders, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. Staley says Bertelsman wasn’t provided a copy of the Franklin County ruling before making his decision.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged schools to mandate masks for all students, staff and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. This recommendation coincided with a nationwide uptick in coronavirus cases driven partly by the virus’ more contagious new delta variant. The response has underscored wider political divides over Covid-19 restrictions: States like California have required masks in school, but other states — including Florida and Texas — have banned local districts from mandating masks.