58: School Mask Lawsuits

Maggie Davis, ASTHO’s Director of State Health Policy, examines the flurry of lawsuits and court orders resulting from legislative and executive prohibitions of school masking policies; Lindsey Myers, ASTHO’s Vice President of Social and...

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Maggie Davis, (@MaggieDavis87) ASTHO’s Director of State Health Policy, examines the flurry of lawsuits and court orders resulting from legislative and executive prohibitions of school masking policies; Lindsey Myers, (@lindsey_myers) ASTHO’s Vice President of Social and Behavioral Health, says public health departments can help kids who’ve lost a parent or grandparent to COVID-19 by pursuing a population health approach to their response; ASTHO wins the Public Policy Award from the National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention; and Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, (@RIHEALTH) tells us what she’s thankful for this Thanksgiving season.

ASTHO Blog Article: Courts Considering Challenges to States Blocking School Mask Requirements

ASTHO Blog Article: The Children COVID-19 Left Behind – A Public Health Call to Action

APHA webpage: Public Health Thank You Day

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, November 1st, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Here's today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Courts across the U.S. are ruling on challenges to state laws and emergency orders prohibiting school mask decisions.

Maggie Davis is ASTHO's director of state health policy. She talks about the legal battles and what else to expect in today's morning conversation.

The courts are weighing in more on the issue of masks in schools. Are there any trends or patterns you've seen among the challenges that have been registered to date?


Yeah, so, 10 states have enacted some sort of law to restrict masking in school—so, seven states have passed a statute, and three states have had a governor executive order. And in eight of those states, we've seen court challenges that fall into two categories.

The first is categories challenging these prohibitions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and what these plaintiffs are asserting is that the state taking away the school's ability to have a reasonable accommodation—which would be providing a cloth mask for students with disabilities to fully participate in person—infringes on their rights.

And so, at this point, we've seen some success early on in the courts in this arm of litigation, with a majority of courts blocking the state prohibitions, finding that they do violate the rights or likely violate the rights of students with disabilities.

The other section of cases are rising out of state constitutional law. So, there are constitutional claims either for the right to have a fair, free public education, and then there's also a unique claim out of Arizona where the law that was actually acted to prohibit the mass mandate was included in a broader collection of issues that violated the state's one issue requirement in the state constitution. So, in that case, it was the construction of the bill that passed that was unconstitutional.


What effect do you think the court proceedings are having on the fight to end the pandemic to knock down the virus?


Well, in particular, the states where these challenges based on the Americans with Disabilities Act claims are likely helping students with disabilities to fully participate in the classroom. This has been a tension you seen throughout the pandemic of needing to keep children safe, particularly since we have yet to have a COVID-19 vaccine authorized for younger children to fully participate in person in school. So, these early court cases have really helped keep as many students participating in person as we can, even though we are not able to—at this point—vaccinate children five to 11.


Of course, the CDC is considering this week a vaccine for kids ages five to 11. That's very exciting news, and it really could go a long way toward helping end the pandemic, keeping kids safe in school where they can learn and be around their friends and such.

But on this mask issue, do you think we'll see even more legal battles based on what we've seen so far?


I think we will see some more legal challenges—maybe not on masking as vaccinations increase, but we're going to likely see challenges in school vaccination requirements.

We've already seen some of those at the university level, and there's likely going to be similar concerns if there are any prohibitions to school vaccine requirements, particularly for students with disabilities.


Find a link to Maggie's blog article on mask lawsuits in the show notes.


More than 140,000 children have lost a parent or grandparent to the COVID-19 virus. Now, there's worry that these kids will suffer long-term problems because of their losses.

Lindsey Myers is ASTHO's vice president of social and behavioral health. She writes in a new blog article that public health departments can address kids' needs with a population health approach.

Read about caring for children of COVID using the link in the show notes.



The Organization Award is presented to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials for policy leadership and advocacy to strengthen public health and prevention in the United States.

Accepting is Carolyn Mullen, chief of governmental affairs and public relations.


The announcement Thursday that ASTHO wins the Public Policy Award from the National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

The award is given annually for work that reduces the heart disease and stroke burden on a national, state, or local level.


Finally today, we get a head start on our celebration of Public Health Thank You Day on November 22nd with voicemails from ASTHO members, partners, and staff.

Today, we hear from Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.


There are so many things that I'm thankful for.

But first and foremost, definitely family that has held me up through this: whether it be my 28-month-old son; or my husband, who is my superhero; or our extended family, who's offered support in any way possible.

And then, my own extended family, really the true heroes to me, colleagues here at the Rhode Island Department of Health; the amount of resilience, commitment, agility, brilliance, so many adjectives that I have just been in awe of, have warmed my heart.

I've shared today even just the celebration of the fact that, in spite of all challenges, we achieved 90% vaccinated statewide with at least one vaccine and 70% fully vaccinated. Months ago, that was considered just impossible; and to know and to have the honor and privilege of standing beside individuals that take the impossible and make it possible just based on their passion and eagerness to serve is a lifelong lesson I will always value and appreciate.


We interview people almost every day for this newscast, and we're asking all of them the same question; so, be sure to listen for more thankful notes throughout November.


That'll do it for today's report.

Remember to visit the show notes to find links to all the stories mentioned in the newscast.


You can follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or listen on Alexa or Google assistant.

And one more thing—we'd be grateful if you could take the time to leave us a rating and a review.

Join us tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.

Nicole Alexander-Scott MD MPH

Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health

Maggie Davis JD MA PMP

Director, State Health Policy, ASTHO

Lindsey Myers MPH

Vice President, Social and Behavioral Health, ASTHO