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Parents Sue Over Arkansas School District's Mask Mandate, 3,549 New Cases Reported

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks with reporters during Thursday's press conference at the state Capitol.
Governor's Office

Three parents are suing over a northwest Arkansas school district’s decision to require face masks after a judge blocked the state’s mask mandate ban, as the state reported its biggest one-day jump in cases in seven months.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday over the Bentonville School District’s mandate argues the local school board had no authority to impose the requirement. The parents are asking a Benton County judge to temporarily block the district from enforcing the ban while they challenge it.

The parents are “forced to choose either to exercise their fundamental liberty interests in refusing to place face coverings on their children against their will or for the children to face expulsion from school,” the lawsuit said.

Public health officials have urged schools to require masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus due to the highly contagious delta variant. The state’s virus cases rose by 3,549 on Thursday, the Department of Health said.

Thursday marked the biggest one-day jump the state has seen since Jan. 6, when it reported more than 3,700 new cases. Asa Hutchinson said students’ return to classes statewide this week is one reason for the spike.

Arkansas ranks fourth in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 38 to 1,410, and the state reported 16 new deaths from the virus.

Hutchinson said 118 public school districts and charter schools have imposed mask mandates since Arkansas’ ban on them was blocked. The requirements cover more than half of the state’s public school students.

“Our legal counsel is currently reviewing the matter and we look forward to a vigorous defense of our district,” Leslee Wright, a spokeswoman for the Bentonville School District, said in a statement.

Hutchinson, a Republican, has said he regretted signing the mask mandate ban and agreed with the judge’s decision against the law.

“What we see is that school districts are weighing this decision very carefully, they’re listening to people and they’re making a judgment based upon what they see is the best health outcome for students in their district,” Hutchinson said.

The state is delivering more than 500,000 high filtration face masks to public schools this week, Hutchinson said, with 325,000 specifically designed for children.

A state lawmaker on Thursday also said she tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating at home. Republican Rep. Julie Mayberry said she tested positive on Wednesday and had few symptoms other than pain in her leg and hip.

Mayberry received her second dose of coronavirus vaccine on Aug. 12. Mayberry had received her first dose in March but had delayed getting the second one after having an adverse reaction. The lawmaker said she decided to get the second dose this month because of the rise in cases due to the delta variant.

During a special session earlier this month, Mayberry sponsored one of two bills rejected by a House committee that would have amended the state’s mask mandate ban to allow some schools to require them. That session adjourned hours before the state’s mask mandate ban was blocked.

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