A Win for Parental Rights
On August 24, 2021, Stand Up Montana and a number of parents filed a civil action against the Missoula County Public Schools to seek a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against the Defendants’ mandatory masking rules implemented in their schools. An emergency hearing was requested and granted. Unfortunately, the Honorable Judge Marks in Missoula denied the request for injunction.
Soon after, on September 16, 2024, Stand Up Montana and a group of parents in Gallatin County filed a civil action against Bozeman School District 7, Monforton School District 27, and Big Sky School District 72. The filing in Gallatin County’s 18th District Judicial court was slightly different in that we asked for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.
A hearing was held in Gallatin County 18th Judicial District court on October 5, and unfortunately the Honorable Judge McElyea also denied a request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. One of the arguments presented in our complaint filed in Gallatin County was that the school boards violated the rights’ of parents to direct the education and health care of their children based upon the newly passed legislation SB400, which restricts government entities from interfering in “the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of their children…” Judge McElyea mis-interpreted the new law stating it referred to cases involving CPS where children had been removed from the home.
Parents in Missoula and Gallatin counties mutually agreed to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court and asked the court to join the cases. In addition, dozens of Montana Legislators in both the House and the Senate filed an Amicus brief on behalf of our case stating that Gallatin County District Court’s interpretation of SB 400 was inaccurate.
After a long wait, the case was finally assigned to a five-judge panel in May of this year. The panel made a unanimous decision that the lower district courts did not abuse their discretion to deny preliminary injunction. They did not, however, determine the merits of the case, so this case will go back to the lower courts to be judged on the merits. The Montana Supreme Court based their argument largely on a Supreme Court decision that mitigating the spread of COVID is a compelling government interest.
The good news? The Montana Supreme Court agreed that the lower court misinterpreted the meaning of SB 400, so this new law upholding parental rights has withstood its first legal challenge.