A state judge on Tuesday denied a legal request to halt Massachusetts’ mandate requiring all public school students and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, through mid-January.
Hampden County Superior Court Judge David M. Hodge’s ruling against a preliminary injunction, which follows similar court orders in other states, found that Massachusetts did not overstep its authority in protecting public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Parental rights do not include the liberty to expose the community or a child to communicable diseases,” Hodge wrote.
The state mandate, which has been extended several times, allows students to remove masks while eating, drinking, taking mask breaks, or spending time outdoors. Masks are recommended but not required for children under 5.
Some schools can request permission from the state to lift their mask mandate before Jan. 15 if at least 80 percent of students and staff members are vaccinated. Districts are not required to lift mask mandates if they hit the threshold, and the decision is ultimately up to local health and school leaders, state education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has said.
Schools in some districts across Massachusetts have lifted mask mandates after reaching high vaccination rates, though unvaccinated people must still wear face-coverings. State officials said they have received requests from 24 schools to lift mandates and approved 18 so far, including 14 high schools, one middle school, and three special-education schools.
Hodge issued his ruling Tuesday in response to several cases challenging the state mask mandate that had been consolidated. Plaintiffs challenged the authority of state leaders — and some local district and health officials — to mandate masks for children, arguing that families should be allowed to make the choice.
Some plaintiffs also questioned the efficacy of masks altogether.
Hodge, however, ruled that “the plaintiffs have not established that the State defendants exceeded their authority in determining that exigent circumstances existed to impose the mask mandate.”
Hodge also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the state’s mask mandate in schools infringed upon parents’ constitutional rights to make decisions about their children’s care.
“The parents who are plaintiffs in these actions do not have limitless authority in the school context,” Hodge wrote. “Their right to direct the care of their children is circumscribed when it jeopardizes the health or safety of children or has a ‘potential for significant social burdens.’ ”
Masking mandates in public schools have been heavily debated and litigated across the country over the course of the pandemic, including in states such as Florida and Texas, where the governors tried to ban school districts from mandating masks. A judge in Rhode Island last week also upheld the state’s school mask mandate.