Oklahoma’s attempt to ban mask requirements in public schools was blocked on Wednesday by a judge who also ordered that students and parents can seek exemptions, the Associated Press reported.
Governor Kevin Stitt and Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA), lauded the ruling. OSMA is part of a lawsuit filed by four parents challenging the law banning mandates signed by Stitt.
Judge Natalie Mai plans to issue a temporary injunction, which will take effect next week when she issues the written order. Her ruling was based on the reasoning that the law applies only to public, not private, schools and that schools that impose mandates must allow parents or students to opt out.
“This is a victory for parental choice, personal responsibility and the rule of law,” Stitt said in a statement.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Clarke said she was also pleased with the ruling.
“This is just a first step in ensuring our schools maintain local control and can choose the best path for their students, faculty and staff,” Clarke said in a statement.
“While not included in SB 658, some businesses’ mitigation efforts such as mask and vaccine requirements have been under fire,” Clarke said. “Our stance is that in order to promote a healthy environment, a business should be able to develop rules that keep their employees safe without interference from state government.”
The U.S. Department of Education on Monday announced an investigation into Oklahoma and four other Republican-led states—Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah—that banned or limited mask requirements in schools. The department said the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.
Other states previously outlawed mask mandates, but the policies were overturned by courts or are not being enforced, including in Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 2,538 new virus cases on Wednesday and a seven-day daily average of 2,796 new cases, which was up from an average of 2,187 during the seven-day period that ended August 16. The department reported that 441 people were in intensive care units, which was more than double the 216 on August 2.
The four major hospitals in Oklahoma City—Integris, Mercy, SSM Health and OU Health—reported Monday that they had no ICU beds available, or none for COVID-19 patients. The health department reported Wednesday that there were 25 ICU beds, or 7.6 percent of the total, available in the city.