Federal Judge Blocks Biden’s Mask, Vaccine Mandates for Texas Head Start Programs

Pre-K students listen while a book is read to them at Phyl's Academy, Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Beginning in September the city's public schools, which currently serve 23,500 three-year-olds, will be adding an additional 16,500 kids to the 3K program. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, …
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool

A federal judge on Friday blocked President Joe Biden’s mask and vaccine mandates for Texas Head Start programs, saying there is a “substantial likelihood” Heath and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra “issued the rule unlawfully.”

Judge James “Wesley” Hendrix of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking Biden’s mandates from being enforced in Texas during litigation. He ruled that HHS has no authority to issue such a mandate unless Congress gives the agency power to do so. He added that ” there is a substantial likelihood that the mandates do not fit within the Head Start Act’s authorizing text, that HHS failed to follow the APA in promulgating the mandates and that the mandates are arbitrary and capricious.”

HHS issued new rules last month requiring children two-years-old and above in Head Start programs to wear masks and mandating staff, volunteers, and contractors be vaccinated against coronavirus by the end of January. Head Start is a federal education program that reportedly “promotes the school readiness of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from low income families,” according to HHS.

In his opinion, Hendrix also wrote that Biden’s mandates will “likely cause further staff shortages to the existing hiring crisis” and lead to a loss of funding and program closures.

“As a result, children who have previously received pre-K Head Start services and funding will be prevented from participating in “an essential part of preparing children, particularly children living in poverty, for success in school and life.”

For example, Wichita Falls ISD Superintendent Mike Huhrt, whose district receives about $800,000 in funding to serve 393 children from low-income families, said Biden’s mandate could lead to a “deficiency in the district,” Times Record News reported.

“If you have a deficiency in your program, you have a chance of not being funded for the next year,” Huhrt said.

Hendrix acknowledged that the public has an interest in reducing the spread of coronavirus and said an outbreak could also lead to program closures. 

“But given the relatively high vaccination rate of staff, the risk of program closures may be greater under the Rule than in its absence,” he concluded. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the lawsuit against Becerra on December 10, alleging the mandate could strip Texas programs of $842 million in federal grants. The complaint reads:

The effect on smaller communities in Texas would be devastating. A recent survey found that 86 percent of child care centers are facing staffing shortages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 166,900 fewer people worked in child care in December 2020 than in December 2019, when the industry employed about 1,040,400 people. In addition, a recent survey determined that four in five child care centers in the U.S. are understaffed.

Paxton told Fox News the preliminary injunction is a “win for the children of Texas.”

“We thought that was a parental choice, not a Joe Biden choice, so we sued them, arguing that he didn’t have the authority – statutory or constitutional – to do this,” he continued. 

While Hendrix’s ruling only applies to Texas, 24 states joined Louisiana in a similar lawsuit filed on December 21 asking the District Court for the Western District of Louisiana to grant a preliminary injunction against Biden’s mask and vaccine mandates for Head Start programs. 

The Texas decision is another blow to the Biden administration’s attempt to legislate vaccination — the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments challenging its OSHA vaccine mandate for large businesses and CMS mandate for healthcare workers on January 7. 

The case is Texas v. Becerra, No. 5:21-cv-300 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. 

Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on Twitter.

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