Federal judge blocks Kentucky governor's school mask mandate

A federal judge in Kentucky on Thursday temporarily blocked a statewide school mask mandate put in place amid increased transmission of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. 

The ruling comes a little over a week after Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed an executive order requiring all teachers, staff, students and visitors in Kentucky schools to wear face coverings while indoors. 

In an eight-page ruling, U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman, a Carter appointee, said Beshear’s order appeared to lack validity after the state legislature earlier this year overrode Beshear's veto to pass a measure limiting his public health authority.

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“The Executive Branch cannot simply ignore laws passed by the duly-elected representatives of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Therein lies tyranny. If the citizens dislike the laws passed, the remedy lies with them, at the polls,” wrote Bertelsman, who sits on the federal district court bench in Kentucky’s Eastern District.

The Thursday ruling was not a final decision on the merits. Rather, it afforded temporary relief in response to a lawsuit brought by parents of students at a Catholic school in Cold Spring, Ky.

The dispute arose shortly after Beshear’s executive order signing on Aug. 10. The order was set to last for 30 days, with the possibility of being extended. 

Beshear’s order noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings in schools, regardless of vaccination status. 

“We are at a point where we cannot allow our kids to go into these buildings unprotected, unvaccinated, and face this delta variant,” Beshear said during the signing, according to a local Fox affiliate.

The vaccine remains unavailable for the roughly 661,000 Kentucky children under age 11, and only about one in three eligible Kentuckians between ages 12 and 17 had received their first dose, the executive order states.

A hearing in the case, Oswald v. Beshear, is scheduled for Tuesday.