Attorney General Knudsen sues to block Head Start vaccine and toddler mask mandate
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen and attorneys general from 23 other states today filed a lawsuit to stop the Biden administration’s mandate for Head Start programs that children 2-years old and up wear masks and that all staff and volunteers receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) is attempting to enforce these mandates via a “performance standard.” If an organization does not comply with the mandate, it is threatened with having its federal funding terminated.
Head Start seeks to improve school readiness by providing early childhood education and resources to kids who are largely from low-income families. There are 20 Montana Head Start organizations with 1,500 employees serving families in dozens of communities around the state. Teachers, contractors, and volunteers in Head Start programs are being forced to get vaccinated by January 31 which will reduce services provided. The toddler mask mandate is also causing problems in Montana.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous for the federal government to expect toddlers to wear masks while playing and trying to learn, but this is the type of nonsense we’ve come to expect from the Biden administration. Whether for geographic or economic reasons, many Montana families who use Head Start don’t have the option to send their children to another program or for one parent stay home if they don’t want their toddler to be forced into wearing a mask all day. Others are forgoing the services altogether,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “Head Start organizations in Montana are facing challenges finding staff who can provide the early childhood education services communities need. Firing workers and telling volunteers they’re not wanted is going to make that problem worse. Children in Montana will suffer because of President Biden’s policies.”
A needs assessment conducted earlier this year by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services found that staff and child recruitment are the most pressing issues facing Head Start programs in Montana. The Biden administration’s mask and vaccine mandates will make both problems worse, in violation of the law that forbids HHS from modifying standards in any way that reduces the quality or scope of any Head Start services.
Under the HHS’ own “lower bound” scenario, 45,500 paid staff would be fired, and 151,500 willing volunteers would be banished from Head Start programs nationwide. One program director in Montana said her program may be forced to close due to the vaccine mandate and that staff morale is the lowest she’s ever seen as a result. The mask requirement for students is also keeping some Montana families out of the program because they do not want their young children to wear masks for multiple hours per day.
“Even putting aside, the exodus of irreplaceable teachers, the Mandate will cause Head Start programs to reduce their services or close because of the compliance costs that it imposes,” the lawsuit states. “The Head Start programs will have to make budget cuts to pay for gathering medical records, enforcing vaccination schedules, buying masks for the low-income children who will be forced to wear them, and supplying tests for their exempted staff and volunteers.”
Because the HHS program standard follows CDC guidelines for what it means to be “fully vaccinated,” the mandate could create a moving target as that definition changes, burdening programs with even more compliance costs and potentially creating a new exodus of staff and volunteers with each additional shot required.
The states are challenging the Head Start Mandate as beyond the Executive Branch’s authority, contrary to law, and arbitrary and capricious. Additionally, it violates the APA’s Notice-and-Comment Requirement, the Congressional Review Act, the Nondelegation Doctrine, the Tenth Amendment, the Anti-Commandeering Doctrine, the Spending Clause, and the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act of 1999. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
The other states involved in the lawsuit are Louisiana, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.