Pulaski County Circuit judge Tim Fox issued a preliminary injunction against the law that Governor Asa Hutchinson signed in April banning mask requirements by governmental entities. The ban was being challenged by two lawsuits, including one from a district where more than 800 staff and students are quarantining because of a coronavirus outbreak.
Fox ruled against the measure on multiple grounds, including the argument that it discriminated between public and private schools. Fox issued the ruling hours after lawmakers adjourned a special session that Hutchinson had called to consider rolling back the ban for some schools.
Hutchinson had said the change was needed to protect children under 12 who can’t get vaccinated as the state’s virus cases and hospitalizations skyrocket.
A House panel on Thursday rejected two measures that would have allowed some school districts to issue mask requirements.
There had been growing calls to lift the ban before school starts statewide later this month.
“I think we’re going to come to really regret not taking action,” Democratic Senator Keith Ingram, the chamber’s minority leader, said. “I just hope the consequences aren’t fatal for children or staff or teachers in this state.”
Pediatricians and health officials have said masks in schools are needed to protect children, as the delta variant and Arkansas’ low vaccination rate fuels the state’s spiraling cases.
The state on Monday reported its biggest one-day increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, and the Department of Health on Thursday said only 36 intensive care unit beds were available in the state.
But Hutchinson faced heavy opposition from fellow Republicans, who had been inundated with calls and messages from opponents of masks in schools.