Students do jumping jacks wearing a mask during a physical education class at Roger Sherman Elementary School in Meriden. Students stretched in their classroom instead of a gym because the weather was cold and the gym was in use for mask break. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

A Hartford judge has ruled in favor of Gov. Ned Lamont in the legal battle over the constitutionality of his requirement that children wear masks in school.

Citing a recent state Supreme Court decision and the General Assembly’s vote earlier this month to expand the governor’s emergency powers, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher said in his Monday ruling that the court will grant the defendants this final decision “not merely because the lawsuit is moot — but because the actions of the executive have been ratified as correct by both the co-equal branches of government.”

The legal battle started last August when CT Freedom Alliance, with four Connecticut families as co-plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit arguing that requiring children to wear masks in school is not only a health risk but that the Department of Education violated state law by improperly implementing the regulation.

In November, Moukawsher denied the plaintiff’s request for an emergency injunction against the mask requirement. But following that decision, the plaintiffs shifted their argument to focus on the constitutionality of the governor’s emergency powers.

Moukawsher’s final decision rested on the outcome of a different case that also challenged the governor’s emergency powers, as well as the decision by lawmakers to extend those  powers.

After the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Lamont’s emergency power laws in March, the Senate passed a bill that extended Lamont’s pandemic authority until May 20. Most recently, the legislature voted to extend those powers until July 20.

“What matters constitutionally is that the Governor follow intelligible principles and face legislative oversight to guard against executive powers wholly and permanently swallowing legislative powers in the name of an emergency,” Moukawsher wrote.

Acting Commissioner of Public Health Deidre Gifford said during a Monday press conference that the state is waiting for the CDC to release updated guidance about mask requirements for the next school year before making any changes to the state’s policy.

“We don’t think we’ll have vaccines for young children in time for the start of school in the fall, so we’ll have to see where things are … and what the new CDC guidance is to know for sure what the fall school year will look like,” Gifford said.

CT Freedom Alliance Co-Founder Brian Festa said in a statement that the coalition disagrees with the decision and will appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“The plaintiffs remain steadfast in their position that the school mask mandate was not only an unconstitutional overreach of executive authority, but that it was — and continues to be — far more of a threat to children’s health than the coronavirus. We look forward to presenting our arguments on appeal.”

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Adria was CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters. Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria was one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.

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