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Montana joins lawsuit challenging vaccine mandate for Head Start employees

by Keith Schubert Daily Montanan
| December 23, 2021 12:00 AM

Montana has joined 23 other states in asking a federal judge to permanently and temporarily stop the Biden administration vaccine and mask mandates for Head Start and Early Head Start students, employees and staff, according to a press release from Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office.

The interim rule requires all individuals involved with the programs ages two and older to wear masks as well as all staff, contractors whose activities involve contact with or providing direct services to children and families and volunteers working in classrooms or directly with children to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by Jan. 31, 2022.

The rule is being monitored by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and went into effect Nov. 30.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Louisiana on Tuesday, argues the mandate is beyond the scope of the executive branch’s authority, violates a handful of federal laws, and illegally infringes on the Tenth Amendment’s reservation of power to states. The states involved are asking for the rule to be temporarily blocked while the case proceeds and the court to declare the mandates entirely unlawful.

Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide federal funding to local education programs for education and child development services for pre-school-aged children from low-income families. According to the AG’s office, 20 organizations in the state employing 1,500 workers receive funding through the programs.

“This action will help more schools and early childhood centers safely remain open and give comfort to the many parents that rely on them every day to keep their children safe,” the White House in a press release about the new rule.

In a press release from the AG’s office announcing the lawsuit, Knudsen hammered the rule and the Biden administration, which has attempted to use its leverage of federal funding and federal agencies to regenerate static vaccination rates across the country.

“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,” Knudsen said in the release. “Head Start organizations in Montana are facing challenges finding staff … Firing workers and telling volunteers they’re not wanted is going to make that problem worse.”

The lawsuit is the latest of many Knudsen has waged against a series of federal vaccine requirements announced by the Biden Administration in September.

Last month the same federal judge assigned to the Head Start lawsuit sided with a handful of states, including Montana, in temporarily blocking a federal vaccine mandate for all healthcare employees working at organizations funded by Medicare or Medicaid.

Another federal vaccine mandate for employees of federal contractors was temporarily blocked twice in federal court. A Dec. 7 preliminary injunction blocked the rule nationwide, and a separate ruling on Monday granted a preliminary injunction in the 10 states involved in the lawsuit, including Montana.

And lastly, on December 17, a federal judge overturned a preliminary injunction on Biden’s vaccine requirement for workplaces, including private businesses, with 100 or more employees. Knudsen had involved the state in previous lawsuits challenging the requirement.

Montana is the only state with a law banning employers from requiring vaccines. In light of the recently overturned injunction, Gov. Greg Gianforte reaffirmed the law in a Wednesday press release.

“Montana law is unequivocal: employers are prohibited from discriminating based on vaccination status,” Gianforte said in the press release. “While employers may encourage employees to vaccinate, they may not tie or modify any terms of employment based on vaccination status.”

The plaintiffs in the Head Start 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.

And the defendants are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Administration for Children and Families, and Bernadine Futrell, the director of the Office of Head Start.

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