Arizona biology teacher sues district over student mask mandate

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An Arizona high school biology teacher has filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Union High School District arguing that its mask mandate goes against a new state law.

Douglas Hester, who teaches Biology 1 and 2 at Metro Tech High School, filed a motion for a restraining order on Monday against its superintendent and its governing board, according to the Maricopa County Superior Court.

“No school district is above the law,” Alexander Kolodin, Hester’s attorney, told The Arizona Republic. “We are pleased to take action on behalf of this brave teacher to ensure government bodies follow state law.”

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The district’s governing board made the decision to enforce indoor mask-wearing last week.

“Our current board-approved policies still require masks when indoors in the presence of others. However, this past month, we did align our mask practices district-wide with the current prohibition of mask mandates,” the school district, which serves nearly 30,000 students, said in a July 30 statement posted to its Facebook page.

The district added that it has recently heard from parents, students and staff who want the school district to align its mitigation policies with local and national health agencies. 

“We are committed to quality public education and fully recognize the need for in-person learning. Campus health and safety is our top priority as we return next week,” the district said. “To do so, we must — we will — implement mitigation strategies that minimize spread, reduce quarantining, avoid school closures and enable us to provide mental health services…”

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The school board is set to discuss mitigation strategies and the continuation of its mask mandate until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention change “their mask guidelines” during a Thursday board meeting. 

A second school, Phoenix Elementary, approved a mandatory mask rule Monday regardless of the vaccination status of students, staff and visitors. The only exceptions will be for special medical reasons.

“We know that our children learn best in person and we will implement mitigation strategies that help to minimize the spread of illnesses, reduce the need for quarantining, and avoid classroom and school closures,” a district statement said.

An Arizona high school biology teacher has filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Union High School District arguing that its mask mandate goes against a new state law (Phoenix Union High School District)

An Arizona high school biology teacher has filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Union High School District arguing that its mask mandate goes against a new state law (Phoenix Union High School District)

Phoenix Elementary has 14 schools primarily located in central Phoenix. The district’s more than 5,000 students start classes on Thursday.

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The CDC said last week that fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks in certain indoor areas and advised universal masking for schools regardless of individuals’ vaccination status amid rising infections due to the delta variant. 

“We stand behind our decision to require masks at this time and remain steadfast in our commitment to do all we can to protect our staff, students, families, and broader community,” Franco said in a statement.

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Attorneys for the school district have been ordered to make their case at a hearing Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court. The court proceedings could be a test case for Arizona school districts determined to defy Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

There were 1,207 COVID-19 patients occupying Arizona hospital beds as of Monday, up from 520 a month earlier on July 2. The state reported 1,974 additional COVID-19 cases and 30 more deaths, increasing the pandemic totals to 933,361 cases and 18,282 deaths.

Fox News’ Kayla Rivas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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