Some districts renew mask policy following court ruling that could have major impact on Arizona politics

A handful of school districts are prolonging mask mandates after a judge ruled Arizona’s ban on them was unconstitutional.

In a ruling Monday, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge disagreed with the ban on school and local mask mandates being tucked inside budget legislation. Judge Katherine Cooper ruled the contents and measures of a bill must be reasonably related to its title. In the meantime, at least 29 public school districts in Arizona enacted mask requirements before the start of school year in defiance of the law and Gov. Doug Ducey’s previous executive order.

Special Governing Board meeting held at Balsz School District

On Sept. 28, the Governing Board at Balsz School District held a special meeting on the issue of mask mandates. Board members say they have been in favor of a mandate since day one.

"It’s the only strategy we have to protect a population who isn’t eligible to be vaccinated, and to protect others around them from a very easily transmissible virus," said one board member.

One board member, however did say the district needs to take into account the long term effects.

"In light of the court's ruling, I am in favor of a mandate. However, I will say I am opposed to anything that is going to put the funding of the entire district in jeopardy, and will hand vouchers to every student. Given our enrollment issues, I think you have to think about this in the long term," said that board member.

As of Sept. 28, Scottsdale Unified School District, Paradise Valley Schools and Tucson’s largest school district announced they would continue to enforce mask-wearing among students and faculty at campuses, as well as district facilities.

Tucson Unified School District, however, had planned to maintain a mask mandate regardless of the outcome in court, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Meanwhile, school districts in more conservative-leaning parts of the state like Bullhead City will continue to encourage, but not mandate, masks.

Arizona still reporting more COVID-19 cases

Meanwhile, Arizona on Tuesday reported 1,123 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 108 deaths. The number of new cases was lower because of a reporting problem, the state Department of Health Services said. The glitch has since been fixed but will likely mean higher case numbers for the next two days as the reporting catches up.

Related: Arizona says data problem reduced report of additional COVID-19 cases

Since the pandemic has started, Arizona has seen 1,087,451 confirmed cases and 19,920 deaths.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped over the past two weeks, decreasing from 2,581 on Sept. 12 to 2,500 on Sunday. The rolling average of daily deaths rose from 26.9 to 42.7 during the same period.

COVID-19-related hospitalizations, which have decreased slightly since mid-September, as of Monday were at 1,794 for second straight day, the state’s dashboard reported.

Ruling on mask mandate could have big impact in Arizona

The judge's ruling on the school mask mandate could have a much bigger impact than whether or not schools can require children to wear masks.

At issue is the concept of single-subject legislation. Basically, do laws put into state statute through the budget, rather than the formal process, actually have to do with the single subject of the budget. Other laws recently passed, like a ban on the so-called Critical Race Theory in schools, election measures, and universities being banned from asking for proof of COVID-19 vaccination, are now also up in the air.

Former congressional staffer Roy Herrera says the ruling has the potential to change the legislative process forever.

"I do think what this ruling signifies is the single subject rule is going to be enforced, going forward," said Herrera. "That could change the way the legislature passes things at the end. It could make passing a budget more difficult."

The Arizona Board of Regents has already weighed in, saying they don’t believe the ruling changes the policies at ASU, NAU, or UArizona. Meanwhile, Republican strategist Barrett Marson says it is surprising someone challenged putting new laws into the budget.

"Some of the issues that were raised in this case, I don’t know if they could’ve gotten 16 votes in the Senate and 31 in the House, much less a gubernatorial signature. Some of this stuff may have only squeaked by because it was in the budget," said Marson.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

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