BENTONVILLE, Ark. — A local circuit judge has ruled that the Bentonville School District violated parents' constitutional rights by mandating students wear face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the mandate being temporarily blocked by a restraining order.
Judge Xollie Duncan made the decision on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
Duncan's verdict stems from a lawsuit a group of parents of Bentonville students filed back in August. The case was dismissed in federal court and refiled in the Benton County Circuit Court.
“The important thing that Judge Duncan found today is that parents still retain their constitutional rights for the care, custody, and control of their kids," said attorney Travis Story, who fought on behalf of Bentonville parents wanting to end the mask requirement.
Students and staff will no longer be required to wear face coverings while inside Bentonville public schools starting Thursday, Oct. 7, until further order from the court.
“There’s just no authority for any public school district to issue a mask mandate,” said Story. “It’s a public health decision.”
Bentonville School District Superintendent Debbie Jones released the following message about the ruling:
I’m pleased to share that COVID-19 numbers continue to trend in the right direction. Numbers are declining in such a way that on Monday, we would not have required face masks under the district’s current policy. Today, however, a Benton County circuit judge ruled only the Governor and the Arkansas Department of Health have the authority to require face coverings. In light of that decision, effective immediately, students and staff will not be required to wear face coverings but are still strongly encouraged to do so.
The District has been approved to participate in the voluntary Test and Stay program which allows those who have been identified as Probable Close Contacts, at school only, to voluntarily take a COVID-19 test in order to remain in class. That program is set to begin in the coming weeks. More information will be shared soon.
Please discuss these changes with your child so he or she is comfortable when returning to school tomorrow. We’ll get through this together as we continue to provide the safest classroom we can for your child.
The CDC and numerous health experts have encouraged face coverings for students who are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
"I’m worried about my child with asthma and what would happen to him if he did, in fact, contract COVID,” said Kathryn Bashaw, mom of six, who is concerned about the mask requirement being lifted.
Last week, the governor announced a new program for school districts to try in order to avoid quarantining students. Bentonville Schools is part of the new pilot program “Test to Stay” where testing is allowed on a regular basis and if that test is negative you may remain in school.
“Never would I say oh I’m going I was going to send my child with nuts despite the risk that I pose on your child, simply because my child likes nuts,” said Bashaw. “I think it’s really easy to make this a political issue but it’s not a political issue. It’s a humanity issue it’s an issue of life in death, and sickness, and health. People who have lost loved ones.”
New COVID-19 cases in Arkansas are dipping following a spike in cases through the end of the summer brought on by the highly contagious delta variant.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.