Texas AG wants to pause vaccine, mask mandates for Head Start until LISD lawsuit is through the courts
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The State of Texas is moving for Federal Court to block mandates with approaching deadlines in January after Lubbock ISD filed a lawsuit against government agencies’ requiring COVID-19 vaccines and masks for staff and students under programs receiving federal aid.
The Office of Head Start makes federal funding and assistance available to low-income families across the country, including 556 eligible students in Lubbock ISD’s Pre-K 3- and 4-year-old programs, according to Superintendent Dr. Kathy Rollo’s testimony in the lawsuit.
On November 30, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the “Interim Final Rule,” requiring certain staff, volunteers, and contractors under federally funded programs to be vaccinated, or get tested weekly if they are granted an accommodation against being vaccinated. The requirements include a mask mandate for anyone two years old or older, with limited exceptions.
Programs in the U.S. under this Interim Final Rule, including Head Start programs, could lose federal funding for failure to comply by January 2022. Staff, contractors, and volunteers who have not received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose in a two-dose series, or first in a single-dose series, by January 31, 2022, “can no longer be employed with the Head Start program.”
According to court documents, at least 20 out of 159 employees working with Head Start students who remain unvaccinated have chosen not to do so, and requirements forcing them to comply leaves the potential for “a mass exodus of pre K staff,” making it impossible for LISD to comply with Head Start student and faculty ratios.
“At least one LISD Head Start teacher has already indicated he will seek alternative employment if he is required to be vaccinated for COVID-19,″ Paxton’s motion reads.
LISD’s lawsuit filed on December 10 calls the requirements for pre-K programs under the Office of Head Start unconstitutional. Tuesday’s motion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking to block enforcement of the COVID-19 mandates until LISD’s lawsuit is through the courts.
Paxton claims the threat to remove funding from Head Start programs is “unconstitutionally coercive,” and calls the mandate “a gun to the head” from federal agencies, compelling Texas and other government entities operating Head Start programs, such as LISD, to participate against their will.
Paxton’s request claims without an act of Congress, government agencies don’t have the authority to force this requirement.
The motion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office asks to “preserve the status quo” while LISD’s lawsuit is considered, saying federal courts have regularly enjoined federal agencies from implementing and enforcing new regulations pending litigation challenging them.
Dr. Rollo’s testimony provided in the lawsuit states LISD experienced a decline in pre-K enrollment last year from 1,072 in 2020 to 1,011 in 2021, but an “active enrollment campaign” has brought that number up to 1,265. If LISD forces parents to comply with these mandates, she believes that progress could be disrupted.
Dr. Rollo claims efforts by staff to keep masks on toddlers takes time away from childhood education and compels parents to make a choice. Their choices are to either comply and allow staff to force masks on their children in order to participate, or withdraw their children from the program completely.
Of Lubbock ISD’s students, 72 percent live below the poverty line, according to Dr. Rollo, adding, “Pre K is an essential part of preparing children, particularly children living in poverty, for success in school and life.”
In a message on the Health and Human Services website, Head Start Director Dr. Bernadine Futrell, a federal official mentioned in the lawsuit, says these requirements are necessary to protect families from COVID-19, adding families living in poverty are most affected by the virus.
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