by Elizabeth Troutman
A judge ruled that the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) did not violate state law by issuing a mask mandate because the law does not take effect until 45 days after the end of the last legislative session on Sept. 29.
Science teacher Douglas Hester, represented by Alexander Kolodin, filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) for its decision to institute a mask mandate despite the provision of the Fiscal Year 2022 state budget, which prohibited schools from requiring face coverings.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Randall H. Warner heard oral arguments on Friday and issued his ruling on Monday.
Kolodin argued that PUHSD violated state law and that the statute’s retroactivity clause made the mask mandate law effective immediately. He said that the law was an appropriations measure, excluding it from needing a two-thirds vote to become effective before the end of 45 days.
Warner denied the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order, writing in the ruling that a “retroactivity clause is not an emergency clause,” so to be effective immediately, a two-thirds vote would still be required. He refuted Kolodin’s argument that the law is an appropriations measure and said that PUHSD did not violate state law because schools have the authority under Arizona law to “protect students and ensure the orderly operation of schools.”
However, Warner denied PUHSD’s motion to dismiss the case. The defendant argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed due to being “premature,” but the judge gave the plaintiff the opportunity to amend the complaint within 45 days.
“We are pleased the judge seemed to recognize that the Legislature has the authority to prohibit schools from imposing mask mandates,” Kolodin said in a statement about the ruling. “We are also pleased that the judge denied Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss with instructions for Plaintiff to come back to him if Phoenix Union High School District’s mandate is still in place closer to September 29th.”
Phoenix Union has about 28,000 students and 4,000 employees. Richard Franco, a PUHSD spokesperson, affirmed the district’s mask mandate decision.
“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,” he said in a statement.
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Elizabeth Troutman is a regular contributor to The Center Square.