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Appeals court dismisses challenge to dormant COVID rules

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled the question of whether school districts’ COVID-19 mask policies were legal won’t be settled right now. In a unanimous opinion, a court panel held that, as a legal matter, there is no case because the mask policies are no longer in effect.

A group of parents sued three school districts in Berrien County over COVID mask policies. The mask policies were put into effect in 2021 and remained in effect even after the county health department rescinded its mask mandate.

In February of 2022, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services changed its guidance on indoor masking as COVID conditions improved. The schools went along with that guidance and lifted their mask requirements.

The appeals court upheld a lower court decision — ruling that the parents’ challenge is a moot question.

“The school districts have rescinded their masking requirements, so plaintiffs’ challenges to the mask mandates are moot because there is no meaningful relief we could grant and any judgment from this Court would have no practical effect on any existing controversy,” read the unanimous opinion.

The families argued for a court decision to preempt future mask orders, but the court said that would be premature and inappropriate with no active controversy to settle.

“To be sure, the public-health environment regarding COVID-19 could change in the future, and the school districts staunchly defend their power to respond to such a health crisis as necessary, including with masking requirements,” said the opinion. “Although we are aware of this possibility, we nevertheless conclude that the likelihood that the school districts will reinstitute mask mandates in response to the evolving COVID-19 situation is speculative.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.