Mask debate moves from school boards to courtrooms

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By Lindsay Whitehurst And Colleen Long

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rancorous debate over whether returning students should wear masks in the classroom has moved from school boards to courtrooms.

In at least 14 states, lawsuits have been filed either for or against masks in schools. In some cases, normally rule-enforcing school administrators are finding themselves fighting state leaders.

Legal experts say that while state laws normally trump local control, legal arguments from mask proponents have a good chance of coming out on top. But amid protests and even violence over masks around the United States, the court battle is just beginning.

Mask rules in public schools vary widely. Some states require them; others ban mandates. Many more leave it up to individual districts.

Big school districts that want to require masks are in court and battling governors in Florida, Texas and Arizona. Worried parents are suing over similar legislative bans on mandates in Utah, Iowa and South Carolina.

Suits fighting mask requirements have popped up in Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky and Montana.

At the heart of the debates are parents, scared or frustrated for their children in an unprecedented time. The early court record is mixed, with victories for mask proponents in Arkansas and

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending universal mask wearing in schools. Students age 12 and younger remain ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

But public health experts say masks are a key coronavirus-prevention tool that does not pose health risks for children older than toddler age, and truly effective when worn by a large number of people.

“This idea of parental freedom to decide what’s best for their child is not unlimited. It has never been unlimited in our system,” said Ellen Clayton, a pediatrician and law professor at Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville, Tennessee.