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August 6, 2021

Daily News Lesson: School districts sue as mayor defies Arkansas mask mandate ban

Patients wait in line to get a swab test at a COVID-19 mobile testing site hosted by the Manatee County Florida Department of Health in Palmetto, Florida,, Aug. 2, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

Directions: After your students read this news article about the Arkansas school district’s concerns and why they are suing, read the latest update here: Arkansas judge blocks state from enforcing mask mandate ban.

Summary: Arkansas’ ban on mask mandates faced new legal challenges and defiance from the mayor of the state capital as Republican lawmakers rejected efforts to roll back the prohibition. The debate over the constitutionality of the mask mandate invites a close look into how civil liberties can sometimes come into conflict with public welfare measures in times of emergency. 

Civics note: There is a significant difference between civil liberties and civil rights that you may want to discuss with your students. The issues in this article relate more to civil liberties.

  • Civil liberties individual rights protected under the law from unjust governmental actions
  • Civil rights — individual rights of citizens to political and social equality under the U.S. Constitution and federal law

Discussion questions: 

Warm up questions: Have your students identify the 5Ws and an H:

    • Who wants to keep the ban on mask mandates in place? 
    • Who wants to roll back the ban?
    • What did the mayor of Little Rock do in response to Gov. Hutchinson’s ban?
    • Why did lawmakers say they kept the ban on mask mandates in place?
    • How many students and teachers have quarantined since the start of school due to the outbreak? How many tested positive for COVID-19?

Focus questions: 

  1. Why were mask mandates issued in the first place? Do you think the mask requirement is a violation of Constitutional rights? 
  2. Even if mask mandates do interfere with our daily lives, do you think this is a reasonable requirement in special times? 
    • Re-read the definitions for civil rights and civil liberties and note how they are different from one another. In times of emergency, should civil liberties be the first priority for lawmakers? How do you think they should decide?

Media literacy: This news lesson is based on an article instead of a video. How does an article differ from a video interview? 

Additional resources:

  • A similar debate over the constitutionality of vaccine mandates is discussed in this article. How is the vaccine mandate similar to the mask mandate? How is it different? Do you think that requiring employees to be vaccinated violates citizens’ civil liberties? 
  • To learn more closely about the difference between civil liberties and rights, check out this article by Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter here.
  • You may also want to check out this article Students ask Supreme Court to block college vaccine mandate at Indiana University. It will be the first time the Court has been asked to weigh in on a vaccine mandate.

This Daily News Lesson was written by EXTRA intern Jacqueline Kim and EXTRA’s Victoria Pasquantonio. Kim is a junior at Amherst College.

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