Biden Admin Mask, Vaccine Mandates for Head Start Program Blocked in 24 Additional States

The Biden administration mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates for the Head Start program have been blocked in additional 24 states by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump nominee, granted a preliminary injunction on Jan. 1 to Georgia and 23 other states against the mandates.

Doughty said he thinks the government lacks the authority to impose the mask mandate on all children two years and older and the vaccine requirements on all workers and many volunteers and contractors.

The law in question does not mention masks or vaccines, leaving the administration reliant on the health secretary’s ability to modify any standard he or she “finds to be appropriate.”

If the secretary can actually do so, “that would be very concerning” because the defendants “would have unlimited power,” Doughty wrote.

“This court has no hesitation in finding that the Head Start mandate is a decision of vast economic significance and that Congress has not clearly spoken to give agency defendants the authority to impose it. The plaintiff states are likely to succeed on the merits that the agency defendants exceeded their authority in enacting the Head Start mandate,” he added.

The Department of Health and Human Services has declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

A different judge last week blocked the mandates for now in Texas, also casting doubt on the administration’s authority to compel Head Start workers to get vaccinated and workers and children to wear masks.

Head Start is a federal grant program aimed at helping young children in low-income households prepare for school. Approximately 864,289 children are enrolled in Head Start, and there are some 273,600 workers and about 1 million volunteers.

While the mask mandate went into effect immediately, the deadline for the vaccine mandate was Jan. 31 before the orders.

Doughty said he found the results of a survey of local Head Start agencies that was made public in the case shocking. A full 20 percent of local agencies were less than 50 percent vaccinated as of early December 2020. About a quarter of agencies expected workforce losses of over 30 percent of staff members, while another 16 percent predicted losing 20 to 30 percent of staffers.

Further, a full 50 percent of programs estimated their classrooms would be closed due to the effect of the mandates.

That would mean 1,324 classrooms being shuttered nationwide.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a Republican who is part of the lawsuit, said in a statement that “once again the federal executive branch has overstepped its legal authority to make laws and once again a federal court has agreed with the State of Alabama that such overreach is unconstitutional and should be stopped.”

The other states in which the mandates are now blocked are Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, and West Virginia.

Zachary Stieber

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Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news and stories relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is based in Maryland.

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