Parent groups sue state over school mask mandate

Two parent groups filed a lawsuit against Governor Gavin Newsom and state health officials Thursday over rules requiring all California’s school kids to wear face masks for protection against COVID-19 when they return to class in the fall term that begins next month.

The groups, Let Them Breathe and Reopen California Schools, filed the lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court against Newsom, State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon, Health and Human Services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and Dr. Naomi Bardach, an advisor to the state on school pandemic safety.

“A return to a normal school year is crucial to the mental and physical health recovery for students across California who have endured months of isolation,” said Jonathan Zachreson, founder of Reopen California Schools, an advocacy organization of nearly 16,000 California public school parents.

At least one other lawsuit has been filed over mask requirements in school. The father of a rising senior at Palo Alto High School sued the school district this month after his son was denied entry to a summer history class for not wearing a mask.

Thursday’s complaint argues that the state’s mask mandate for all students regardless of local infection rates or whether they are vaccinated is arbitrary, not based on scientific evidence, harmful to students and impedes their education. It further alleges that the state’s guidance on testing students who aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19 and quarantining to contain outbreaks are unnecessary and burdensome.

The governor’s and state public health department offices had no immediate response Thursday afternoon.

The California Department of Public Health said earlier this month said that its guidance aligns with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “by layering multiple other prevention strategies” such as face masks when students cannot be adequately separated in classrooms.

“Many of California’s school facilities can’t fully accommodate physical distancing,” the department said in a statement July 13. “California will continue to require that masks be worn indoors in school settings, which also will ensure that all kids are treated the same.”

The department added that mask enforcement will continue to be handled by local schools “as the state recognizes the unique needs of each district and child,” and that every California school has access to free testing. Current state health orders require unvaccinated people to wear masks in indoor public settings and for all people to wear them in certain settings including public transit, health and correctional facilities and school buildings. Masks aren’t required outdoors, where the disease doesn’t easily spread.

The COVID-19 vaccines haven’t been authorized even for emergency use for children under age 12. Children however have been least vulnerable to serious illness or death from the disease, which becomes deadlier with age and impaired health.

The lawsuit, which asks the court to block the state mask order, argues that it is based not on the science of preventing disease but on arbitrary concerns about practical implementation and fairness, and that its’s inconsistent with rules for private businesses since the state dropped most pandemic restrictions June 15.

“At most businesses and government buildings, individuals may ‘self-attest’ that they are vaccinated through the action of not wearing a mask,” the complaint said. “Thus, the state’s mask mandate is selectively and rarely enforced.”

The complaint added that “most places have not required anyone to wear a mask indoors, including in crowded venues such as Disneyland, trampoline parks, movie theaters, malls, stores and sporting events.”

The complaint cites statements from doctors including a May 26 Washington Post article by four physicians that said “children should return to their normal lives this summer and in the upcoming school year, without masks and regardless of their vaccination status.”

And it notes studies that have shown children don’t tend to spread COVID-19 in schools and the low risk of serious illness and death they face from the disease.

The complaint alleges face masks hurt the ability of students trying to learn English as a second language, and cause health distress including increased heart rate, decreased oxygen levels, headaches and concentration problems, which Ghaly has disputed.

Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe, a group of 14,000 parents in California and around the country, said that if California is concerned about treating all students the same, instead of requiring all students to wear masks, it should allow “all children to unmask and show their smiles.”



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Author: John Woolfolk