Families of students with disabilities are gearing up to fight the governor’s executive order banning school mask mandates in federal court.
The lawsuit, filed last week in the Western District of Virginia, includes Loudoun County families. It claims that Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s order is in violation of federal law and could create an environment where children are at higher risk of COVID-19. Without universal masking, the filing says, students would be excluded from receiving an education, which would be barred under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
Currently, Loudoun requires masks in schools. Last week, a federal District Court judge ruled in favor of seven Virginia school divisions, granting a temporary restraining order against the executive order. The divisions argue that Senate Bill 1303, enacted last year, requires continued masking in schools to be in compliances with the CDC’s recommended mitigation measures.
Kim Gould, a teacher and a mother of two Loudoun students, said she joined the suit to protect her son’s access to his critical services. She said Youngkin’s executive order scared her to death.
Her son Isaac, now 13 years-old and in sixth grade, is severely immunocompromised. When Isaac was six years old, the Goulds experienced the horrors of severe respiratory illness.
“A lot of kids get RSV, and it’s a cold and they recover. Isaac got RSV and ended up on a vent in the hospital. It’s the unexpected for us,” she said.
At school, Isaac receives speech therapy and other services. He still can’t quite talk due to problems with his vocal cords, but Gould said that he socializes and whispers to his friends.
She worries that the family will have to keep both Isaac and his brother home from school if the masking requirement ends, and that Isaac would lose access to his therapies.
“Issacs’s right lung is half the size of his left lung, he is severely compromised, and he wears a mask all day and has absolutely no problem doing it. Hasn’t complained once. I know it’s doable. I wear a mask all day because I’m a teacher. It’s fine,” Gould said.
“I believe the science that my mask protects you and your mask protects me. And being a resident of Loudoun County I truly hope that the people who don’t want masks just aren’t understanding the facts. I would really hate to believe that these people don’t want to protect kids in the community,” she said.
Attorney Eve Hill said that the ADA and Section 504 requires schools to accommodate their students with disabilities.
“Ensuring that they’re safe in school is an accommodation. … The order has to give way to federal law. We’re certain that we’re correct on the law, we’re just hopeful we can get that decided quickly before children are hurt by the executive order.
There is not yet a hearing date for that case.
As dozens of students have been suspended in Loudoun for flouting the mask mandate, three families are suing the school division for enforcing the masking policy. Attorney General Jason Miyares, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow were granted their motion to join the Loudoun County Circuit Court lawsuit brought by parents Kristen Barnett, Heather Yescavage, and Colin Doniger.
They are seeking a temporary injunction and temporary restraining order against the local mandate, which Miyares said in a statement is in violation of Youngkin’s executive order to make masking in schools optional.
“The School Board’s actions have directly interfered with the right of each parent here … to make educational decisions for their children, all of whom have been directly and irreparably harmed by the unlawful Universal Mask Mandate and would attend their respective Loudoun County Public Schools mask-free if it were not for the Mandate,” the filing reads.
“After nearly two years in this pandemic, we have better risk mitigation strategies and vaccines, and we know much more about the efficacy of requiring children to wear masks all day,” Miyares said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Parents know what is best for their children and should be able to decide if their children wear a mask for eight hours a day.”
Miyares’s statement contradicts longstanding expert health advice on the importance of masks in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Last night’s School Board meeting was halted as families attempted to serve members with affidavits to cease and desist with the mask mandate. Students, including teens in boy scout uniforms, brought bins of legal paperwork towards the dais. Chair Jeff Morse (Dulles) stopped the group from delivering the documents in the board room.
Mother Megan Rafalski and other parents and students attempted to serve the documents to division spokesman Wayde Byard, who said he could not accept them because Rafalski was not a process server. A bystander shouted while video recording Byard as he walked away, “I’ll make sure that Fox National News has this.”
An administrator met the group in the lobby of the boardroom and took possession of the documents after a presentation by the group. Rafalski announced the names of each board member as students presented the bins. She said the group spent $1,000 printing the documents.
Rafalski was one of the parents involvedin “Maskless Monday,”when about 100 students attended school without masks to recognize Youngkin’s executive order.
“I’ve been segregated from my class. Placed in in-school suspension for a week. Segregated and discriminated against because I’m standing up for the rights that have been taken away from me… God did not intend for us to walk around with diaper on our face… Now that you have taken away our rights, I have no trust or respect for any of you,” one of the students said during the public comment portion of the meeting.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism