MISSOULA — A state district judge has denied a request from a group of parents to block face mask mandates for students in Missoula schools, saying the mandate doesn’t appear to violate any fundamental rights.
“Schools have a legitimate governmental interest in the safety of students, staff, and visitors,” Judge Jason Marks wrote in his ruling Friday. “The face-covering rule is rationally related to the safety of persons, many of whom are not eligible for vaccinations … (and) must congregate indoors for extended periods of time.”
Marks rejected a request by the group Standup Montana and 11 parents to block the mask mandate while he decides the mandate’s constitutionality.
An attorney for the group, Quentin Rhoades of Missoula, told MTN News Monday his clients are disappointed with the ruling and plan to appeal.
Standup Montana and associated parents have filed a similar lawsuit against mask mandates in schools in Bozeman and Big Sky.
Three school districts in Missoula, with more than 11,000 students and 1,750 staff, decided in August to require students, staffers and visitors to wear face-masks indoors, to prevent or slow the spread of Covid-19.
Standup Montana filed its suit shortly thereafter, saying the mandate violates parents’ and children’s right to privacy and personal dignity. It asked Marks to issue an injunction blocking the rules while he decided the overall issues in the case.
In denying that request, Marks indicated that he doubts the parents have made a case that the mandate violates fundamental constitutional rights.
“Masking in school during a pandemic is a far cry from an abuse of human dignity,” he said in his order.
Marks wrote that requiring children to wear a face mask at school is a public-health measure meant to prevent the spread of a communicable disease and not a question of personal privacy or personal health-care decisions.
He also said while children who don’t want to wear masks may have to use remote learning, instead of in-person instruction, that option is less harmful than putting all children and staff at risk of infection from Covid-19.
“While the court doesn’t disagree that in-person instruction is preferable, there is no indication that remote learning does not meet the requirement of the schools to provide education to students in their districts,” he said.
The parents’ lawsuit says that Covid-19 is “not much of a threat” to schoolchildren and claims that “data and science suggest” that the mask mandate is not justified or effective.”