Federal judge strikes down Biden administration’s Head Start vaccine, mask mandate

The Hill – by Joseph Choi

A federal judge in Louisiana on Wednesday struck down a mandate from the Biden administration that required staffers at Head Start child care facilities to be vaccinated and to wear masks.

U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty issued a permanent injunction against federal agencies enforcing Head Start vaccine and masking requirements.

In his ruling, Doughty found that the plaintiffs had satisfied the requirements to warrant a permanent injunction. He ruled that the plaintiffs — a group of Head Start teachers from across the country along with several state governments — faced a “substantial threat of irreparable injury” if the mandate wasn’t taken down.

“Plaintiff States will incur the increased cost of training and of enforcing the Head Start Mandate, will be unable to enforce their laws, and will have their police power encroached. The Court finds that this would be an irreparable injury,” Doughty wrote.

In November, the Office of Head Start, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Administration for Children and Families issued a rule requiring universal masking for all children and staff at Head Start facilities over the age of 2. Adult staff members were also required to get immunized against COVID-19, with weekly testing required for those who were exempt from vaccinations.

About one month after this rule was issued, the lawsuit seeking to strike it down was filed. Sandy Brick, one of the original plaintiffs on the suit, is a Louisiana preschool teacher who works with Head Start students.

“The Plaintiff States’ citizens will suffer irreparable injury by having a substantial burden placed on their liberty interests because they will have to choose between losing their jobs or taking the vaccine,” the judge said.

Doughty further ruled that the risk of harm to the plaintiffs outweighed risks to the federal agencies named as defendants in the case and would not undermine public interest.

Doughty’s injunction applied to the 24 state governments that acted as plaintiffs in this case. These states were: Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The masking requirement for Head Start grant recipients is one of the only remaining federal mask mandates. Last week, HHS announced it would be dropping the requirement in the near future to align with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Despite the mask mandate’s continued existence, HHS officials have not been checking for compliance with the rule since February of this year, when updated CDC guidance was issued.

Daniel Suhr of the Liberty Justice Center, the libertarian litigation center representing Brick in the suit, said in a statement, “We will continue to fight for teachers like Sandy and the low-income students they serve until every illegal and unjustified mandate is wiped from the books. Today’s decision is a significant step toward undoing the injustice perpetrated against everyday Americans throughout the COVID-19 crisis.”

The Hill has reached out to HHS for comment on the ruling.

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