By William Patrick | The Center Square
(The Center Square) – Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is leading another multistate legal challenge against a Biden administration COVID-19 mandate; this time over child mask requirements and mandatory staff vaccinations for Head Start programs.
Head Start provides child care and early learning services for infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children of low-income families at no cost.
Landry has sued the administration over vaccination mandates affecting employers, federal contractors and health care workers. The latest lawsuit aims to block rules requiring children age 2 and older to wear masks and all program staff, volunteers and certain contractors to be vaccinated by Jan. 31.
“Like all of his other unlawful attempts to impose medical decisions on Americans, Biden’s overreaching orders to mask two-year-olds and force vaccinate teachers in our underserved communities will cost jobs and impede child development,” Landry said Tuesday.
Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill released a video statement, saying the consequences of noncompliance could lead to lost funding, reduced child care and early capacity and program closures.
“This policy makes no sense,” she said. “As a mother of four boys, all of whom attended early preschool programs, I understand the importance of these programs to parents.”
According to the Mayo Clinic’s state vaccine tracker, Louisiana has a 49.9% rate of fully vaccinated eligible individuals.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana and included 23 other dissenting states.
The complaint alleges the Head Start mandate exceeds executive branch authority as it is implemented through the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS), not Congress.
Other allegations include violations of the Administrative Procedures Act’s public comment requirement, the Congressional Review Act, the 10th Amendment and the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act.
“The mandate affects approximately a million children and hundreds of thousands of staff and volunteers,” the lawsuit reads. “It also impacts hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and disrupts the education of children at a critical developmental period in their lives and impairs alignment of early childhood education programs across the country and specifically in plaintiff states.”
HHS published an interim final rule Nov. 30 in the Federal Register that added the mask and vaccine provisions to Head Start’s performance standards. The “universal” mask mandate was immediate, whereas program staff, volunteers and affected contractors were given two months to comply with the vaccine requirement.
According to the rule, children age 2 and older must wear masks when indoors, when in vehicles associated with the program, in outdoor settings with sustained person-to-person contact and “for those not fully vaccinated.”
An HHS statement said the staff vaccinations are essential to returning to fully in-person services.
“The purpose … is to protect the health and safety of Head Start staff, children and families; to mitigate the spread of the virus … and to help more programs and early childhood centers safely remain open,” the statement said.
The multistate lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction that would suspend the mandate from taking effect while the dispute is legally resolved.
A similar Louisiana-led lawsuit achieved a nationwide injunction that blocked the Biden administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) employer vaccination mandate, though the injunction was recently dissolved. The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering an appeal.
“Our nation’s children have faced enough setbacks and difficulties during the last two years; they cannot afford another government attack on their development,” Landry said.