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With headlights showing the way, these students get off the bus at Timber Ridge Elementary School in east Cobb early one morning in January.

A group of Cobb parents has sued the Cobb School District over its mask mandate, arguing that, contrary to guidance from state and local public health officials, mask-wearing is useless and students who reject it are forced into a substandard virtual learning environment.

In short, the mandate has created “two separate, segregated and unequal classes of students,” reads the lawsuit, invoking Brown v. Board of Education.

In response to questions sent by the MDJ, district spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the school district had just received the April 9 lawsuit, adding its attorneys would review the lawsuit “before providing a legal response.”

“The District remains committed to following public health guidance and continues to rely on public health guidance provided by Cobb and Douglas Public Health,” Kiel said.

The district closed its schools and pivoted to an all-virtual learning environment in March 2020, reopening to some students Oct. 5. The district gradually expanded the number of students who could return for in-person learning and now offers that option to students in all grade levels.

Universal mask-wearing was among the safety protocols that would allow the district to safely resume in-person learning, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said last fall.

“(Mask wearing is) a primary part of the plan because it’s a very important piece that allows us to come back into face-to-face as an option,” he told the Cobb Board of Education in September. “The latest guidance that came out identified that proper face mask-wearing is very pivotal in a school being able to reopen, and that’s certainly going to help us remain open.”

The lawsuit was filed in Cobb Superior Court on the parents’ behalf by attorneys Mitch Skandalakis and Robert Madayag, who argue that students forced to learn virtually because they refuse to wear masks are receiving a substandard education.

The attorneys cite several studies that have found that increased screen time can negatively impact brain development, educational outcomes and mental and emotional health.

“As an alternative to the known harm of elevated levels of screen time, in order to attend school, the school district forces children to wear masks, a scientifically baseless ‘solution’ that is pure political theater and harms children in its own way,” the attorneys write, again marshaling a number of studies that have found little evidence that masks limit the virus’s spread.

The CDC lists five broad strategies districts can use to prevent in-school transmission. But two should be prioritized: maximizing social-distancing as much as possible and requiring “universal and correct use of masks.”

“Masks should be worn at all times, by all people in school facilities, with certain exceptions for certain people, or for certain settings or activities, such as while eating or drinking. Masks should be required in all classroom and non-classroom settings, including hallways, school offices, restrooms, gyms, auditoriums, etc.”

And the CDC’s “Guidance for wearing masks” webpage states that “COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets” which “travel into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. … Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.”

The lawsuit also takes aim at the district’s contact tracing and quarantining protocols, saying they violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

The parents — Caryn Sonderman, Matt Gill, Andrei Marcu, Gretchen Brocard, John Hanson and Erin White — are seeking injunctive relief barring the district from continuing its enforcement of the mandate.

Parties to the lawsuit have been ordered to appear before Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge James Bodiford April 20 at 11 a.m.

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(6) comments

Ann DG

We have not had any complaints or issues with students wearing masks at my children’s school. It all comes down to parents attitudes. They should be ashamed of themselves. This is the first year we haven’t had massive viruses, flu or colds with students and staff thanks to the masks.

CRAIG BARFIELD

While I am not opposed to kids wearing masks, whatever happened to 'following the science"(data)? Not only are kids very low to zero spreaders of the virus, they are also not greatly affected by it when they do get it. To be sure some kids with certain health conditions will need to take precautions but 95%+ will be fine. Time to lose the hysteria and open the schools back up.

richard plent

A bunch of Ignorant fools. I bet they also hate Fauci.

Ann DG

The schools have been open since fall. It is the parent's choice not to send their children. The children have no problem wearing masks. It is the parents who influence their children by telling them "It is ridiculous and no one is going to make you wear a mask. We are keeping you home so you don't have to wear a mask." Then they complain. They are wasting their time with a lawsuit. No court is going to side with them that children do not have to wear a mask. As for the children, if they are carriers of the virus, the adults can get sick. Everyone wears a mask. Hopefully, the mask wearing will be over by August when everyone is vaccinated.

Julian Morgan

I am a high school teacher. I am a high school varsity coach. I am the parent of a high school senior. My wife suffers from a chronic lung issue. My father suffers from dementia, and I am the only family member left to care for him.

Currently, our country is confronting two national health crises simultaneously--the most obvious, the pandemic, the less obvious, the tragic rise in depression, anxiety and suicide in our teens. Going to school in person puts everyone at more risk, period. Fake studies, hysteria, and politics of all sorts be damned. It creates more health risks for everyone involved. But those risks have to be weighed in relation to the risks that not going to school creates for our children.

The problem lies not in balancing two seemingly conflicting priorities, but in our collective misunderstanding of our role as citizens. We have come to see our individual rights as the only thing matters. As teachers, we argue we don't have to go to school and teach because we are afraid. Our right to not be afraid supersedes the rights of our students to attend class in person even when the best science indicates that it can be done safely with masks and distancing. In contrast, this misguided group of parents argues that their and their children's right not to wear masks supersede the rights of the teachers, their families and the other students the masks protect. Masks allow for an easy solution to the problem as long as the problem is how to get all the necessary parties back to school safely.

Nonetheless, both groups are just wrong about what we owe one another as citizens. Both groups have rights, but both groups have responsibilities that are as important, if not more so, as their rights. As teachers we need to go to school and get our emotionally and psychologically beat up kids back together. As parents, we need to send our kids to school in masks to protect the people who serve them. It's not a dichotomy. It's not a matter of rights. It's a matter of respecting each other's rights, living up to our responsibilities to one another and the common good, and, for God's sake, learning to practice some self-restraint in the way we pursue our individual freedom.

Larry H.

Should they not be successful, will the litigants be responsible for court costs and BOE legal costs, protecting tax payers from having to foot the bill?

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