Judge rejects bid for required masking in Minn. schools

A man in a mask greets kids getting off a school bus.
Gov. Tim Walz greets students for the first day of classes at University Avenue Elementary School in Blaine, Minn., on Sept. 7. A judge on Tuesday denied a bid to force a statewide mask mandate in all Minnesota schools.
Tim Nelson | MPR News file

In a ruling where he expressed concern over COVID-19 risks for Minnesota children, a Ramsey County District Court judge on Tuesday denied a bid to force a statewide mask mandate in all schools.

Judge Thomas Gilligan turned back a request from a group of concerned parents who wanted to require masks in schools. They hoped the judge would force Gov. Tim Walz to issue the directive.

“While this court is gravely concerned about the public health consequences of the failure of school districts to implement the guidance of the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Health regarding use of masks for children, teachers and staff in K-12 public schools, the judiciary cannot order a co-equal branch of government to exercise its discretionary, political judgment to implement a specific educational policy,” Gilligan wrote in his 29-page order.

The longshot legal challenge was unique in that it sought to have a governor declare an emergency and follow it with a mandate. In other states, governors who tried to prevent school districts from requiring mask use have seen those attempts blocked by courts.

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In Minnesota, each school district is implementing its own policy. Some have required masks for all grades or among the age groups where vaccination isn’t yet authorized. But other districts have made face coverings optional.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Parents Advocating for Safe Schools, said the case might not be over.

“We knew this would be a difficult case, especially at the trial court level, but it’s an extremely important one,” said attorney Marshall Tanick. “And we are examining a number of alternatives, including the possibility of an accelerated or expedited appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court due to the urgency of this matter.”

Gilligan wrote that he was worried about setting a precedent in requiring the governor to use emergency powers.

“If a citizen suffered the effects of a natural disaster such as a tornado or flood, can they avail themselves of court intervention to force the governor to issue an executive order to restore power, rebuild structures and flood protection or make emergency funds available?” Gilligan asked rhetorically.