Judge Hits Pause Button on the Head Start Program Mandates

Head Start program. | Image from Nashville.gov

Judge James Wesley Hendrix ruled on Friday to temporarily block President Joe Biden’s vaccine and mask mandates for Texas’ branch of Head Start, a federally-funded early childhood program.

The Biden Administration’s requirements state individuals two years and older must wear a mask and employees or volunteers must get the COVID-19 vaccination by the end of January.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lubbock ISD’s suit is in progress in federal court, but Judge Hendrix has granted a preliminary injunction on the rule.

In a tweet, Paxton expressed his delight at the decision: “I just halted another illegal fed vax & mask mandate. Thanks to my suit (first of its kind in the nation), Prez Brandon is barred from using the Head Start Program to force vax & masks in TX—both of which this Admin embarrassingly admitted don’t stop Covid anyway!”

The new protocol was released in November so the federal program could begin instilling the requirements to ensure safety.

The Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Sarah Lovenheim, stressed the importance of both requirements: “The families of children in the federal Head Start programs deserve the peace of mind that comes with a vaccinated and masked workforce.”

Because Head Start is financed with federal money, concerns arose as the programs decided what to do. Officials in Lubbock ISD worry that obeying the rules could cause the loss of more employees, enrollment, and funding.

Judge Hendrix expressed the school districts’ concerns in a statement: “And LISD stands to lose other funds as well: at least one parent of a non-Head Start student has indicated that her child will be withdrawn from LISD’s pre-K program if instructors—who teach mixed classrooms of Head Start and non-Head Start students—are required to wear masks, depriving the District of the tuition dollars paid by that child’s parents.”

He granted the temporary injunction because he found that proper procedures were not followed when introducing the new rules. He also stated that DHHS Secretary Xavier Becerra overstepped his power to create “moderate changes to Head Start performance standards.”

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