Arizona educators seek injunction on the ban of mask mandates

Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat

University of Arizona students walking around campus while wearing masks in April 2021.

Mask and vaccination mandates in Arizona will be prohibited on Sept. 29, according to budget reconciliation bills passed in late June, but a preliminary injunction filed by Arizona educators aims to reverse that.

At a court hearing on Monday, Sept. 13, at the Maricopa County Superior Court, Judge Katherine Cooper stated that she would rule on both the motion for preliminary injunction and the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief before Sept. 29, a plaintiff in the case told the Daily Wildcat.

Arizona School Boards Association, Children’s Action Alliance, Arizona Educators Association and Arizona Advocacy Network were some of the plaintiffs named in the case. Other plaintiffs include medical doctors, a public school teacher and an Arizona State University professor.

The preliminary injunction seeks to overturn sections of House Bill 2898, Senate Bill 1824, SB 1825 and SB 1819 as unconstitutional.


Allegation of single-subject rule violations

The title requirement and single-subject rule in the Arizona Constitution (Ariz. Const. Art. IV, pt. 2, § 13) maintains that a bill’s title should describe and connect to its contents. The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief alleges that HB 2898, SB 1824, SB 1825 and SB 1819 are in violation of this.

HB 2898, SB 1824 and SB 1825 are titled as “appropriating monies,” but the complaint alleges that it contains “substantive policies” that do not relate to the budget, citing prohibitions on public schools from requiring face coverings, vaccinations or proof of vaccination. 

SB 1819 is also titled as “appropriating monies,” but the complaint alleges it does not relate to the budget, as it “sets forth various requirements for ‘fraud countermeasures’ used in paper ballots,” “grants the Attorney General the authority to defend election laws” and bans regulations on mask mandates or curfews to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiffs also alleged that Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed 22 bills “to put pressure on the legislature to pass the budget,” and state legislators such as Rep. Kelly Townsend, Rep. Joseph Chaplik and Rep. Bret Roberts knowingly added legislation that was in violation of the single-subject rule.

“Running out of time, lawmakers amended the [budget reconciliation bills] with a hodgepodge of substantive policy legislation to get the votes they needed to pass the budget in violation of the constitution,” the complaint stated.

Allegation of students’ equal protection rights violation

The complaint further alleged that HB 2898 is in violation of students’ equal protection rights, as “the ban on mask mandates also unlawfully discriminates against Arizona’s public and charter school students.”

“There is simply no conceivable state interest (let alone a compelling one) in forcing public and charter school students into unsafe educational environments, while allowing students who can access private education to get adequate protection,” the preliminary stated. “What interest could the State possibly have in prioritizing the health and safety of Arizona’s private school students over public school students? There isn’t one.”

Support from United Campus Workers of Arizona

United Campus Workers of Arizona, a higher education union “by and for all university employees at ASU and UA,” has formally extended declared their support for the lawsuit and is represented by steering committee member Laurie Stoff, a professor in Arizona State University's Honors College.*

The UCWAZ release stated that if the bills were to go into effect, it would “do serious and irreparable harm to its members.”

“This law is detrimental to public health and safety, which is really anathema to the whole mission of a state legislature,” Stoff said. “The people we elect into office are supposed to protect us, not harm us. And this law will harm us.”

Another plaintiff and member of UCWAZ in the lawsuit is Richard Newhauser, a professor at Arizona State University. He faces an increased risk of being severely ill should he contract COVID-19 due to a medical condition and being over 70 years old.

“I am not only worried about my own health and safety. I have close friends, good colleagues, and graduate students with whom I work closely,” Newhauser said in the motion for preliminary injunction. “None of them should be faced with the prospect of working in a riskier environment due to the unconstitutional law that was included as part of a budget reconciliation bill. Nor should my colleagues, co-workers, and friends be faced with the prospect of bringing infection home to their spouses, children, or aged parents.” 

Campus life now and potential outcomes

Currently, many campus locations at the University of Arizona do not mandate face coverings. 

Kyle Kline, administrative vice president of ASUA, said that though the UA campus has been strong about the promotion of mask wearing, there has been a “lot of confusion” on campus due to the bills passed. 

“When you have lawmakers going back and forth on the efficacy of masks, it really puts into question what people should be following,” Kline said.

Geethika Ameneni is a co-director of the Student Health Advocacy Committee on campus. She said that she hopes that the injunction will pass and overturn the prohibition on mask mandates.

“We’ve already seen in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools where they don’t require masks, like our university has been doing, and cases have skyrocketed,” Ameneni said. “It’s such a scary thing to think what will happen in such a densely-packed campus like the [UA].”

*Editor's Note: This story was published on Sept. 16, 2021, but was updated on Sept. 17, 2021 because Laurie Stoff was misidentified as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She only represented UCWAZ in a declaration supporting the lawsuit.

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