Federal Judge Strikes Down Mask, Vaccine Mandates for Toddlers in Public Preschools

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A Louisiana federal judge on Wednesday permanently blocked the federal government from enforcing its mask and vaccine mandates for children and teachers in public preschool.

The Head Start program, which provides early education to infants, toddlers, and kids preparing for kindergarten, cannot require that any adults or students in the applicable centers or daycare be vaccinated against Covid-19 or wear masks, U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty ruled.

The regulation applied to children as young as two years old, Doughty noted, both indoors and outdoors during activities that involve close contact with other people. The court rejected the argument of the government that the mandates fell under an “administrative standard,” finding that the provision only pertains to administering the Head Start program and financial issues, not medical ordinances.

Doughty, who was appointed by former president Trump, invoked the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote that “Congress . . . does not alter the fundamental details of a regulatory scheme in vague terms or ancillary provisions — it does not hide elephants in mouse holes.” In this case, the elephant was the mandate and the mouse hole is HHS’s attempt to disguise the mandate as a “mere modification” of the administrative standard, Doughty argued.

“By mandating Covid-19 vaccines and/or masks for 2-to-4-year-old children, Agency Defendants veered outside of the authority for which Head Start was created,” the ruling said.

On the question of the vaccine mandate, Doughty declared: “The public interest is served by maintaining the constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals who do not want to take the COVID-19 vaccine. This interest outweighs Agency Defendants’ interests.”

Doughty’s decision nullifies active restrictions in 24 states.

Plaintiffs Sandy and Jessica, employees of the Head Start program, sued the Biden administration, specifically the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in December 2021 after it published an “interim final rule” imposing a second-dose vaccine rule and a universal mask mandate on adults and children in November. The Liberty Justice Law Center represented the pair in the lawsuit, Brick v. Biden.

The federal government can now decide whether to appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the same court that struck down the government’s vaccine mandate for employees of private businesses, LJLC noted.

“Although President Biden recently declared that the ‘pandemic is over,’ the fight to restore Americans’ individual liberties is not,” Daniel Suhr, managing attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, said in a press release. “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.”

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