‘Exceeded Their Authority’: Judge Strikes Down Biden Administration’s Head Start COVID Mandate

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By Zachary Stieber


September 21, 2022 Updated: September 21, 2022

The mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed on the federal Head Start program was struck down on Sept. 21 by a U.S. judge who said the mandate is clearly outside the power of the agency that promulgated and enforced it.

“The Court finds the Agency Defendants have exceeded their authority by implementing the Head Start Mandate because Congress only gave Agency Defendants the power to ‘modify’ Head Start performance standards. The Head Start Mandate is not a modification,” U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee, said in a 27-page ruling.

Federal law says the government can impose standards on Head Start, a program for young children in low-income families who aren’t yet attending school, related to administrative and financial management standards, standards relating to the condition and location of facilities, and other standards the secretary of health finds appropriate.

Defendants, including Health Secretary Xavier Becerra, had claimed that the law enabled the imposition of the dual mask–vaccine mandate, but Doughty said they were wrong.

“There is nothing in 42 U.S.C. [Section] 9836a which would allow Agency Defendants to make medical decisions for employees and volunteers, and/or to require two (2), three (3), and four (4), year-old students to wear masks the majority of the day,” he said. “There is a disconnect between the Agency’s challenged actions and its assigned mission and expertise. Agency Defendants’ expertise is not making medical decisions for its students, volunteers, or employees.”

Doughty took the unusual step of permanently striking down the mandate. That means it is no longer in place unless an appeals court or the Supreme Court steps in.

The permanent injunction is in place for 24 states, all of which sued the Biden administration over the mandate in December 2021.

The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the rule of law and for health care freedom,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, said in a statement. “We stood up and fought the Biden administration’s illegal mandates on behalf of Kansas kids, teachers, and parents, and today, we all won.”

“Louisiana teacher Sandy Brick has been serving her students through adversity and uncertainty the last two years. Today, this decision vindicates her right to teach without sacrificing her freedom,” added Sarah Harbison, general counsel at the Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

Brick is a Head Start employee in Louisiana who filed a suit that was merged with the suit filed by the attorneys general of the 24 states.

The Department of Health and the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees Head Start, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Biden administration announced this week that it would soon rescind the Head Start mask mandate, which is in place for all workers and children aged 2 and older, but would keep the vaccine mandate, which applies to all workers and many contractors and volunteers, in place.

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