Arizona Educators Battle Ducey’s Ban on Mask Mandates

AZ Educators Battle Ducey’s
Ban on Mask Mandates

Arizona kids have returned to Arizona classrooms after summer break and a year and a half of upheaval and anguish caused by COVID-19. Educators, children, and families across the state are grateful to return to some semblance of normalcy, and educators are working hard to meet students’ increased academic and social-emotional needs after this very difficult period, despite the governor’s ban on a mask mandate. 

Getting Kids Back to School Safely

Masks in schools should not be controversial. Masks are a simple, proven mitigation tool that keeps children and educators safe and in school. The CDC recently reported that schools with mask mandates are 3.5x less likely to have an outbreak. Fewer outbreaks mean safer schools, and it also means fewer quarantines and increased learning. Shouldn’t that be the goal?

However, Governor Doug Ducey has continued to do everything in his power to prevent schools from keeping kids and teachers safe — and Arizona educators have had enough. They’ve taken the governor to court, and so far they are winning.

Governor Doug Ducey has continued to do everything in his power to prevent schools from keeping kids and teachers safe -- and Arizona educators have had enough. They’ve taken the governor to court, and so far they are winning.

Ducey Forces Ban on Mask Mandate in Schools

In June 2021, Governor Ducey and special interests forced a ban on school mask mandates through the state legislature. At the eleventh hour of a very tough legislative session, the legislative majority added a grab bag of provisions to state budget bills that were entirely unrelated to the budgeting. This process is called logrolling, or trading votes among politicians to get unpopular ideas across the finish line. 

By the time schools were ready to re-open in August and the fourth surge of the pandemic caused skyrocketing cases and deaths, Ducey remained undeterred. In fact, as school districts began passing mask mandates in spite of his law, he issued punishments for masks in schools. In August, Ducey declared he would use $163 million in federal COVID relief funds for grants that could only be used by schools “following all state laws.” What’s more, he created a $10 million grant program for private school vouchers for students leaving public schools due to mask mandates and quarantines. 

Mask Mandate - Doug Ducey
Photo credit: Ralph Freso, Getty Images

Arizona Judge Tosses Mask Mandate

Several Arizona educators, physicians, and education organizations took matters into their own hands and filed suit. The lawsuit argues that a ban on mask mandates should not have been included in budget bills and that this logrolling violates the single-subject rule in the Arizona Constitution

On September 27, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the suit. This stays the law and allows districts to keep their mask mandates in place for now. The plaintiffs appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which will hear the case on November 2.

Biden Administration Tells Ducey to Halt Grants & Vouchers

In the meantime, the Biden administration has told Governor Ducey to halt any use of federal dollars to punish mask mandates in schools. Ducey is ignoring this ruling and has challenged Biden’s team to sue him. 

Currently, however, Ducey is denying two districts $8 million in grant funds due to their mask mandates in classrooms. This is despite the fact that they are following all enacted state laws, with the mask mandate ban tied up in court. 

The budget, attorney Roopali Desai says, should stick to the budget. "It's in our Constitution," she says. "We've gone astray from that process; we need the courts to set those boundaries. And then hopefully, moving forward, if we're successful in this case, the Legislature won't engage in these kinds of shenanigans."

Court Stops Legislative Logrolling

If the Arizona Supreme Court rules against these provisions being logrolled onto budget bills, there will be major ramifications for future legislative sessions. Gone will be the days of lumping unpopular ideas onto the state budget. Instead, lawmakers will have to get these bills across the finish line on their own merits. And politicians will have to own their votes instead of hiding behind the budget process — even in an election year. 

A ruling in their favor could also send a message to Republicans that politics as usual when it comes to budget negotiations, must change. The budget, attorney Roopali Desai says, should stick to the budget. “It’s in our Constitution,” she says. “We’ve gone astray from that process; we need the courts to set those boundaries. And then hopefully, moving forward, if we’re successful in this case, the Legislature won’t engage in these kinds of shenanigans.”

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