Education Kentucky Politics

A federal judge temporarily blocked Gov. Andy Beshear’s mask mandate for K-12 schools Thursday, saying the executive order violates laws passed by the General Assembly this spring that limited the governor’s emergency powers. 

“The Executive Branch cannot simply ignore laws passed by the duly-elected representatives of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Therein lies tyranny,” Judge William Bertelsman wrote in his opinion.

The ruling could mean private schools will not have to require masks, though a statement from the governor’s office suggests the ruling will only apply to Archdiocese of Covington, where the plaintiffs’ children attend school.

“Thankfully, while we disagree with the plaintiffs in the case, they have agreed that the order should be narrowed to only apply to their diocese and no others schools,” Beshear’s spokesperson Crystal Staley wrote in an email.

A separate mask mandate from the Kentucky Department of Education means masks are still required in public schools.

Bertelsman sided with two Northern Kentucky parents, Jason and Karen Oswald, whose children attend St. Joseph Elementary School. The Oswalds claim Beshear violated their First Amendment right to freedom of religion when he instituted the mandate.

The laws Bertelsman draws on in his decision are themselves currently blocked. Franklin Circuit Court judge Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a temporary injunction blocking parts of those laws in March, siding with Beshear in his challenge.

Bertelsman is the same judge who struck down Beshear’s travel ban in May 2020.

Beshear’s office blasted the ruling Thursday evening.

“The federal court’s ruling could place thousands of Kentucky children at risk and undoubtedly expose them to the most dangerous version of COVID-19 we have ever seen,” Staley wrote.

“We will pursue every avenue and option to ensure that we can protect Kentucky’s children,” she wrote.

This story has been updated.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.