The Missoula County Health Department pictured on December 20, 2020.
A Missoula District Court Judge said on Monday that he would not temporarily block mask mandates in Missoula schools, saying the parents challenging the mandates have not proved they would suffer irreparable harm from the mandates’ continuing.
“Although Plaintiffs dispute the efficacy of face coverings, the court is disinclined to strip schools of the ability to utilize a recognized public health measure to control communicable disease and keep children in school,” District Judge Jason Marks wrote in his decision.
The defendants Missoula Public School District, Hellgate Elementary, and Target Range School District all decided to implement mask mandates for at least part of the 2021-2022 school year. The lawsuit was filed by StandUp Montana shortly after on Aug. 27, arguing the science behind masking is flawed and unconstitutionally interferes with their children’s right to privacy and liberty, among other things — claims Marks cast doubt on in his decision.
“Masking in school during a pandemic is a far cry from an abuse of human dignity,” Marks said in the filing.
“[Plaintiffs] arguments go well beyond what the Montana Supreme Court has recognized as encompassed in the right to privacy and the right to dignity,” he said. “Further confounding Plaintiffs’ analysis is their failure to distinguish between individual health care decisions and public health measures.”
Data from the Missoula City-County Health Department showed that the 7-day average of daily new cases per 100,000 people rose from 49 on Sept. 1 to 87 on Sept. 28 compared to 3 on July 1.
And given the increase in cases, Marks said schools have a legitimate government interest in protecting students, staff and visitors.
“The face-covering rule is rationally related to safety of persons, many of whom are not eligible for vaccination due to their age, who must congregate indoors, in close proximity for extended periods of time,” he wrote.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for universal indoor masking in schools for all students age 2 and older, teachers and staff regardless of vaccination status.
Additionally, Marks said the plaintiffs failed to show would suffer irreparable harm if the mask mandates continued in his ruling, saying that there is less harm in having children learn remotely than blocking the mask mandates.
“While the court doesn’t disagree that in-person instruction is preferable, there is no indicatation that remote learning does not meet the requirement of the schools to provide education to students in their districts,” he wrote.
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