A Phoenix Union High School District teacher who filed suit challenging the district’s COVID-19 mask mandate will have his day in court next week.
The district is requiring staff, students and visitors to wear mask to be worn indoors when students head back to school next week — despite an Arizona law that bans mask mandates.
Douglas Hester, who teaches at Metro Tech High School, sued the district, its governing board and its superintendent in Maricopa County Superior Court. He alleges Phoenix Union’s governing board lacks the legal authority to require masks.
A brief scheduling hearing in the case took place on Wednesday morning with attorneys for the district and the teacher in attendance.
Judge Randall Warner ruled arguments will begin Aug. 13 at 9 a.m. The case will be heard in person, but attendance will be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. The proceeding also will be available for viewing online.
At question in Hester’s lawsuit is the authority of school district governing boards and whether they must be responsive to public health guidance or state law.
“No school district is above the law,” Alexander Kolodin, Hester’s attorney, told The Arizona Republic on Tuesday. “We are pleased to take action on behalf of this brave teacher to ensure government bodies follow state law.”
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In a statement on Tuesday, Phoenix Union said it stands behind its decision to require masks, saying it remains “steadfast in our commitment to do all we can to protect our staff, students, families, and broader community.”
Hester’s lawsuit comes as school districts weigh safety measures as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Arizona and across the nation.
Three other school districts — Phoenix Elementary, Osborn Elementary and Roosevelt Elementary, all feeder districts for Phoenix Union — are also bucking state law and are requiring masks inside school buildings.
The mask policies at the four districts are in line with federal and local public health recommendations in response to the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
Gov. Doug Ducey’s office has said such mask mandates are illegal in Arizona and unenforceable.
“As the governor has often said, mask usage is up to parents,” Ducey’s office said in a statement Friday. “If a parent wants their child to wear a mask at school, they are free to do so.”
The budget bill passed by the Arizona Legislature earlier this summer prohibits school boards from mandating that students or staff wear masks or be vaccinated. The ban took effect June 30, according to a provision in the legislation.
The Republic’s Yana Kunichoff and Megan Taros contributed.