By Andy Rose and Madeline Holcombe, CNN
An Arizona judge will hear arguments Wednesday over whether a Phoenix school district can require people to wear masks in defiance of a state law banning mask mandates in schools.
Teacher Douglas Hester filed a lawsuit Monday against the Phoenix Union High School District and its governing board, along with superintendent Chad Gestson, requesting that the court declare the district’s mask policy contrary to the law, according to the complaint.
“No school district is above the law, and we are pleased to take action on behalf of this brave teacher to ensure government bodies follow state law,” Hester’s attorney, Alexander Kolodin, told CNN in an emailed statement Tuesday.
The lawsuit comes as lagging vaccination rates and the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant sends Covid-19 cases surging again. Many experts fear what the recent surge in Covid-19 cases could mean for the new school year, and some officials are re-implementing mask mandates to add another layer of protection in communities with high levels of spread.
A ban on requiring students and staff to wear masks in Arizona schools was signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in June, but there is a dispute over when it goes into effect because the law was passed retroactive to June 30. In Arizona, laws go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns.
The district’s school year began Monday, according to the complaint.
Last week, the district announced all staff, students and visitors would be required to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
“Recently, we have heard from our staff, students, and families that they want us to realign our mitigation practices with the guidelines and recommendations of national and local health agencies,” the announcement said.
During a news conference last week, superintendent Gestson declined to comment on the legality of the mandate, but said, “If a legal battle ensues, we’ll be fully prepared to handle that,” CNN affiliate KPNX reported.
Gestson did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, the Phoenix Elementary School District Governing Board voted during an emergency meeting Monday to “amend the health and safety protocols to enact a face covering mandate with a limited opt-out provision,” the district said in a news release.
“The Phoenix Elementary School District will continue to use science and follow guidelines from federal, state, and county health experts to safely reopen schools,” the district said in a news release. “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.”
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