A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order against the Warren County School District that is suspending proceedings by the district that effectively made masks optional at school.
“As of tomorrow, Wednesday October 6, mask exceptions will not be allowed as a way of not wearing a mask.” according to a statement posted on the district’s website.
“Only students benefiting from exemptions and accommodation through the 504 and IDEA processes will be accepted. “
A lawsuit was filed Monday against the Warren County School District over its decision to provide parents with a way to refuse their child to wear masks. The problem is the district’s Sept. 13 decision to allow parents to sign a waiver to exempt their children from state mask requirements without supporting medical documentation.
An injunction lawsuit was filed Monday in Western Pennsylvania U.S. District Court in Erie. The plaintiffs are identified as nine minors “by and by their parent”, all of which are identified by initials only.
The defendants are the Warren County School District and each of the nine members of the school board.
U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter granted a temporary restraining order in the case on Tuesday afternoon.
“(The) Court finds that there is good cause for the issuance of a temporary restraining order because the plaintiffs are likely to prevail over the merits of their due process request under the Fifth and the fourteenth amendment ” Baxter said in his order.
“The facts show that applicants will suffer immediate and irreparable harm if a temporary restraining order is not granted”, Baxter continued. She criticized the action of the district which “Occurred without notice, without sufficient hearing, of one of the standard procedures for changing school district policy.” “
She concluded that a “A temporary restraining order will serve the public interest and the health, safety and well-being of students in schools in the school district.”
Baxter said in the order that the “The effect of this order maintains the status quo of August 31, 2021, the order of the Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health that required universal masking for all students in Commonwealth schools” and will remain in effect until further legal action.
“This vote of September 13, 2021 was based on ignorance due to a lack of investigation into the facts,” suggests a brief in support of the complaint. “The board held a rushed hearing that only provided the public with 24 hours’ notice and provided no notice that a political vote was taking place. “
The lawsuit was filed by Kenneth Behrend, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer, and alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act, the American Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Superintendent Amy Stewart declined to comment on the case file and Arthur Stewart, who brought the September 13 motion, was referred to Board Chair Donna Zariczny.
“The district is aware of the trial and we have no comment,” Zariczny said.
The complaint alleges information from the CDC that the “The risk of exposure and infection to COVID-19 is increased by not wearing masks” and that the purpose of masking is to keep schools open “For as many students as possible.
Although details of the complainants were not included in the documentation filed on Monday, the complaint indicates that the complainants are “Children with health problems and children under 12 who cannot be protected from COVID-19 with a vaccine. “
They point to a perceived hypocrisy in the council’s action – namely that it was taken in a virtual meeting.
The complaint indicates that the board is “provide more protection against COVID-19 infection than they provide to schoolchildren” in what they have “Took what he describes as the ‘best’ action to prevent attendees from wearing masks at school board meetings by hosting virtual meetings to reduce the risk of exposure and infection from COVID-19 to members of the school board. “
Their claim is that district policy “Violates substantive and procedural constitutional procedure and will cause irreparable harm” complainants, WCSD staff, students, visitors and the community.
The complaint says the district approved a health and safety plan to be eligible for emergency relief funding for elementary and secondary schools that they said required compliance with CDC recommendations. They note that the district has requested just over $ 6 million in funds from this program.
They provide a history of developments in the case, citing the various ordinances and guidelines implemented by state and federal entities, including the requirement to be masked on school buses.
The neighborhood, they say, “Granted de facto authorization for optional masking in school buses” by issuing warnings only as part of district disciplinary proceedings. They argue that the district made a policy change with this decision and did not provide any public notice or take the item up prior to the committee’s review.
“The district’s previous policy regarding the application of the wearing of face masks in school transport has been made redundant,” they argue. “The act of warning a child of bad behavior and a violation of a policy, without any consequence for further violations, is an action meaningless.”
The complaint then focuses on the mask order implemented by the state and the district’s response.
Status tracking communication, indicate the complaint, indicated that the order is “Not an optional mask policy” and that an exemption without medical evidence does not comply with the order.
Three days after this state update of the details of the complaint, the district took action to provide a non-medical documentation path to deny the wearing of masks to school.
The plaintiffs argue that the action is “Acting in direct violation of the Pennsylvania Department of Health ordinance specifically designed to eliminate school district and parent choices for optional masking.” and is “In contradiction to medical and scientific studies and CDC requirements designed to protect children in schools, employees, parents and the community.”
They raise the same process argument they raised for the bus change, but go further to criticize the actions of the board on September 13.
This vote “Did not take place before a fair and impartial tribunal”, the complaint indicates, “as evidenced by the efforts the majority of the board was prepared to make to allow parents to exclude their children from universal masking without medical documentation despite multiple government orders … and the overwhelming science and medicine that show that the Universal masking works to prevent the spread of infection caused by COVID-19. ”
Table “Was prepared to violate its own operating procedures designed to protect the public by providing adequate notice”, they add. “A majority of the board voted in favor of the motion, anyway.”
The complaint highlights an irony that the complainants “can no longer associate safely, or potentially, at all” due to district policy change “Yet underage complainants are required under compulsory education laws to attend school. “
They are seeking an emergency temporary restraining order and ultimately a preliminary injunction to clear the optional mask policy and “restore the status quo” which complies with the various decrees requiring universal masking.
“The school board has dramatically increased the risk of the spread of COVID-19 among the student body and school district employees,” the plaintiffs say in a memorandum also filed on Monday. “Here,
They say the risk of harm is “Big and obvious”.