The Oklahoma District Court issued a temporary injunction Wednesday against Senate Bill 658, a highly disputed state bill that prohibited schools from issuing mask mandates unless the governor declared a state of emergency.
Wednesday morning, Judge Natalie Mai said the bill could not stand, as the mask mandate ban applied to public schools but not private. This injunction will take effect next week and allow for schools to mandate masks again.
The injunction will remain until a permanent hearing by a permanent injunction court hearing takes place or a higher court takes action. Mai said schools must still include an opt-out for parents even under a mask mandate.
OU interprets SB 658 and Gov. Kevin Stitt's Executive Order 2021-16 as barring it from requiring masks on campus. President Joseph Harroz stated Wednesday the university will pursue masking in classrooms as a mandate, as much as state law allows, and continue to follow the CDC's guidelines.
Joseph Thai, the Watson Centennial Chair and a Presidential Professor of Law at OU, wrote in an email that he believes the temporary injunction will have little effect on the university's ability to enforce mask mandates.
"The temporary injunction prohibits the state secretary of education from enforcing SB 658 against K-12 schools. If so limited, that injunction would have no direct effect on OU," Thai wrote. "However, the part of SB 658 applicable to public universities only bans mask mandates against unvaccinated students, so OU does not need an injunction to require masking across-the-board."
Thai wrote if OU “incorrectly believes” SB 658 ties the university's hands, then it could have challenged SB 658 already.
"Kudos to the parents of public school children and the Oklahoma State Medical Association for showing the courage to challenge SB 658 to keep students and teachers safe," Thai wrote. "Hopefully, OU will follow their example, even if it is too late for the University to lead on.”
A university spokesperson wrote in an email that OU was aware of the injunction and is monitoring the situation closely. The spokesperson wrote that OU will pursue a legal course of action in achieving mask requirements in the classroom with exceptions.