File - Arizona school classroom

Teaching assistant Susan Jussel works in an empty classroom as she monitors a remote learning class at the Valencia Newcomer School on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2020, in Phoenix.

(The Center Square) – A Phoenix teacher filed a lawsuit against the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) for requiring that students and teachers wear masks at school, arguing that state law prohibits school mask mandates. 

Douglas Hester, a Metro Tech High School teacher, sued the district, its governing board, and its superintendent in Maricopa County Superior Court. He requested a temporary restraining order on PUHSD on the grounds that the district's mask policy is contrary to state law. Hester is represented by Alexander Kolodin, a member of the legal team for the Health Freedom Defense Fund (HFDF). 

The FY 2022 state budget made it illegal for schools to require that students wear face-coverings or receive the vaccine to receive in-person instruction. This did not stop the Phoenix school district from requiring that students and staff keep their masks on in response to the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases. 

“The Phoenix Elementary School District will continue to use science and follow guidelines from federal, state, and county health experts to safely reopen schools,” the district said in a news release. “We know that our children learn best in person, and we will implement mitigation strategies that help to minimize the spread of illnesses, reduce the need for quarantining, and avoid classroom and school closures.”

The PUHSD news release said that to return to in-person learning and stop the spread of the new COVID-19 Delta variant, it was necessary that the school  “implement mitigation strategies that minimize spread, reduce quarantining, avoid school closures,” such as a mask mandate. 

PUHSD attorney, Mary O’Grady, defended the board’s decision to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, saying that the provisions prohibiting mask mandates do not take effect until 90 days after the end of the session on September 29. 

Kolodin, however, said that if the district intended to comply with state law after September 29, it would be willing to comply now.

“The government is not above the law,” Kolodin told The Center Square. 

Leslie Manookian, president of HFDF, said that as a federal agency, the CDC does not make laws. She said that HFDF is supporting the case because they believe that mask mandates violate the human right to breathing. 

“Health laws are state laws, and the legislature of Arizona has passed a law which should be binding,” Manookian said. “No renegade school district should be able to go and decide that they are not going to abide by the state law.” 

Manookian said that the government’s marginalization of the unvaccinated is “totally unacceptable in a free country."

The court will hear the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order for Aug. 13 at 9 a.m.