Bentonville parents’ mask mandate lawsuit dismissed

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 1,113 views 

In a federal court, an Aug. 18 lawsuit filed by three parents against the Bentonville School District over a mask mandate was dismissed Thursday (Sept. 9).

Matt Sitton, Matthew Bennett and Elizabeth Bennett were the plaintiffs in the case. They filed a voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit on Thursday.

The parents sued over the school district’s decision on Aug. 11 to require face masks after a judge blocked the state’s mask mandate ban. The requirement in Bentonville is for students ages three and up.

The lawsuit was filed originally in Benton County Circuit Court before the school district’s lawyer filed to remove the case to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

The parents argued that the school board did not have the authority to institute a mask requirement for the school. The parents asked a Benton County judge to temporarily block the district from enforcing the ban while they challenged it.

“We are pleased to see that the lawsuit has been voluntarily dismissed,” said Marshall Ney, the district’s attorney who is a partner at Friday, Eldredge & Clark in Rogers. “As we stated in our motion to dismiss that preceded the voluntary dismissal today, the [school] district’s board acted legally and well within its authority when it approved a mask policy.

“The district can now turn its attention back to its core mission, which is educating the kids in its schools.”

Mask mandates have been put in place in more than 70 Arkansas school districts. That followed an Aug. 6 decision by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox to grant a restraining order that temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a mask mandate ban, Act 1002, for the 2021-22 school year.

Act 1002, sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, passed this spring prohibiting state and local governments, including schools, from requiring masks. Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the veto-proof bill into law but then called legislators into special session Aug. 4, asking them to amend the law. He wanted to let school boards have the option of requiring masks to be worn by children under age 12 who are too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The bill failed to advance out of committee.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said on Aug. 13 that she would appeal Judge Fox’s decision.

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