The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has filed an amicus curiae brief in Arizona state court in support of the Arizona School Boards Association’s lawsuit seeking to overturn an Arizona law prohibiting school boards from requiring masks in schools. The brief sets the ground for informing courts about the realities schools face in navigating restrictive laws and mandates where communities need flexibility.

“Masks or no masks shouldn’t be a political decision,” said NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven. “Instead of one-size-fits-all state mandates, masking decisions should be based on science, state and local health data, and conversations with community members. As duly elected representatives of their communities, school board members are the best-positioned individuals to make decisions affecting the health and safety of the students and educators they represent.”

Relying on numerous legal precedents, including some going back more than 100 years, NSBA’s brief argues that school districts have long been responsible not only for the education, but also for the health and safety of their students—a responsibility the Arizona legislature “eviscerates,” according to the brief.

“Through the budget reconciliation bills (BRBs) challenged here, the Arizona legislature has removed the authority of the state’s school districts to fulfill their most basic and expected duty—to keep students, staff, and guests safe in school buildings,” the brief notes. “By prohibiting schools from imposing mask mandates, the so-called ‘budget’ bills have usurped local authority and long-held standards about how branches of state government ensure public health and local school boards collaborate with those authorities. The legislative action is unconstitutional…and dangerous. It imperils the health and safety of public school children and their communities.”

The brief cites the long-established legal doctrine in loco parentis, which translates to “in place of parents.” It is through this doctrine, the brief argues, that school districts take on parent-like responsibilities for students’ well-being and safety. As a result of the pandemic, school districts’ “already-weighty responsibility” to keep students safe has become even heavier during the pandemic.

“Courts have long recognized the doctrine of in loco parentis to uphold school district actions taken to protect students, even when school district restrictions may limit certain constitutional freedoms,” said Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., NSBA’s Chief Legal Officer. “In this instance, however, the Arizona legislature has stripped school districts of their ability to make decisions and provide tailored solutions during a time when they need them most in favor of state-imposed mandates that fail to account for the unique health challenges facing individual communities.”

“School board members are not politicians,” said Slaven. “They are not worried about their next election or which issue will help them in the polls. Instead, their sole focus is doing what’s best for each child in their school district. As the Delta variant continues to spread throughout the country and impact schoolchildren more than previous variants, it is crucial that school board members maintain their ability to act in the best interest of students.”

NSBA’s amicus brief is available at https://nsba.org/-/media/NSBA/File/legal-asba-v-state-of-arizona-amicus-brief-9921.PDF. 

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2020 State of the Association

Full of challenge and change, 2020 was like no other year. NSBA's State of the Association provides a snapshot of the association's advocacy and member services work as well as our ongoing transformation.