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Oklahoma attorney general now fighting temporary injunction in school mask mandate case
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Oklahoma attorney general now fighting temporary injunction in school mask mandate case

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Fourth grader Eleanor Carr wears a mask at Tulsa's Council Oak Elementary School. Mask mandates in schools have been banned by legislation in Oklahoma, but a judge's ruling allows for mandates that include exemption options.

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is appealing a temporary injunction that is now blocking the enforcement of the state’s new law against school mask mandates.

The appeal was filed Thursday morning, according to Alex Gerszewski, spokesman for the AG’s Office.

On Wednesday, an Oklahoma County judge signed a written order that gives school districts the ability to mandate face coverings with one caveat — that they offer the same exemptions required by law for mandatory school vaccines.

“The State of Oklahoma and Governor Kevin Stitt are enjoined from enforcing certain sections of SB658 enacted in 2021 against any board of education of a public school district that has exemptions as described herein,” reads the order just signed by District Judge Natalie Mai.

“Any mask mandate or requirement for students in a K-12 public school must include the same exemptions that are present in (the state vaccine statute citation).”

Under state law, parents and legal guardians may claim an exemption from immunizations on medical, religious or personal grounds.

Oklahoma Attorney General Assistant Solicitor General Bryan Cleveland had previously indicated that the state plans to appeal the judge’s Sept. 1 ruling, which took effect only upon the written order’s filing on Wednesday.

On Aug. 13, some parents of children with serious medical conditions in Tulsa, Broken Arrow and Norman banded together with the Oklahoma State Medical Association to challenge the state constitutionality of Oklahoma’s ban on school mask mandates.

The ban was passed last legislative session in Senate Bill 658 and signed into law by Stitt.

The measure bars school districts from imposing mask mandates unless the governor declares a public health emergency, but Stitt has said repeatedly that this is something he won’t do despite the current COVID surge.

The plaintiffs argue that SB 658 violates the Oklahoma Constitution in four ways:

A child’s right to a free education in a safe environment

Provisions for equal protection, because it applies only to public but not private schools

Prohibition of special laws regulating the affairs of cities or school districts, because as it stands, school districts could not comply with city-enacted mask mandates, nor could cities enforce such legal mandates in schools, and

Due process, because it is “unreasonable or arbitrary” and has “no rational relationship to a legitimate state interest,” including public health, safety, morals or general welfare.

In issuing the temporary injunction, Judge Mai determined that the measure had created an unconstitutional division because it applied only to public schools but not private schools even though the risk to people at both kinds of institutions is equal.

The plaintiffs are also seeking a permanent injunction against the state and Gov. Stitt in the case.

Featured video: Increase in COVID-19 among younger patients since schools opened

Sept. 7, 2021 video. Speaker is Dr. Travis Campbell, Chair, Department of Pediatrics/The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis

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Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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