Oklahoma is facing a lawsuit from parents and a medical association over the state’s ban on mask mandates in schools.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by the Oklahoma Medical Association seeks to stop the state from enforcing State Senate Bill 658, which prevents state schools and colleges from adopting mask or vaccination mandates.
Gov. Kevin Stittt, a Republican, signed the measure into law in late May, at the same time he issued an executive order barring state agencies from instituting similar requirements for those entering their buildings.
Plaintiffs allege that the law is a “violation of Oklahoma children’s rights to a free education in a safe environment,” a violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.
If the law is enforced, the suit alleges that “many children will be deprived of this liberty without being afforded due process of law, in that, there is not rational basis for depriving them of the opportunity to learn in a classroom where feasible mitigation measures are being used — the same measures that are prohibited by State SB Bill 658.”
Dr. Mary Clarke, president of OMA, said the lawsuit is “about public health and common sense.”
“If schools can send students home for a lice infection, they should have the latitude and ability to issue a mask mandate,” Dr. Clarke said in a statement.
The lawsuit came a day after the Tulsa school board voted to allow its attorneys to join any litigation challenging the law and the Santa Fe South public charter school in Oklahoma City announced an indoor mask mandate for students and staff despite the law.
The state health department reported the number of virus-related hospitalizations in Oklahoma neared 1,300, and the state health commissioner said most of those are unvaccinated.
Last weekend, that rate increased to over 6,000.
“We are seeing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and trends, due largely to the more contagious Delta variant, which is overwhelmingly affecting unvaccinated Oklahomans,” Dr. Lance Frye said in a statement urging those eligible to vaccinate.
“We also know the vast majority of Oklahomans who are hospitalized and dying of COVID-19 right now are unvaccinated,” Dr. Frye said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 41.1 percent of Oklahomans are fully vaccinated, compared to 49.9 percent nationwide.
There were 1,299 people hospitalized, including 351 in intensive care, the health department reported.
The department reported 2,468 new virus cases and a seven-day rolling average of 2,049 new cases daily, up from 1,235.9 on July 27.