School masking advocates trying to make an end run around the law in PA

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Almost two months ago, the Pennsylvania state supreme court ruled that the state’s face mask mandate for schools was unconstitutional and struck it down. While this was met with mixed reactions among families in some areas, obviously there were still people who felt that leaving the choice up to the parents (or even the school districts) was unacceptable. In their view, everyone must be forced to mask their children. But what could be done about it? One possibility has been suggested and it involves a suspicious number of lawsuits that have been filed against school districts that make masking optional. The “suspicious” part of this, as National Review explains it, is the fact that all of the lawsuits contain nearly identical wording and reasons for the complaint. It’s almost as if someone is out there generating these suits as part of a campaign.

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On the heels of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that put the kibosh on a statewide school masking mandate, lawyers in the Keystone State are trying a new tack to reinstate a classroom mask requirement — suing individual school districts in federal court on the grounds that they are failing to protect medically vulnerable students.

Over the last month, at least four nearly identical lawsuits have been filed in Pittsburgh- and Philadelphia-area school districts that recently made masks optional, accusing them of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a civil-rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability.

The lawsuits, all filed on behalf of unnamed students with disabilities, claim that not requiring universal masking forces parents of “medically fragile” children to make a “shockingly unfair or unjust decision of deciding whether to pull their children out of in-person learning, causing mental harm and havoc on the child and family, or face the quantifiably increased risk of physical harm caused by exposure to severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19.”

What a mess. As National Review goes on to recount, there have been multiple lawsuits filed around the state with a completely mixed bag of results. Some judges have declared that the school boards are the “ultimate authority” in determining school policy regarding face coverings absent a statewide mandate. Others have decided that making masks optional is the only legal way to proceed. In other words, not only are we failing to get consistent answers from “the science” about these mask mandates, we apparently can’t even figure out what the law says about them and courts are simply making rules in a whimsical fashion. And haven’t they heard that “the science has changed” on wearing masks in schools?

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The way that these carbon-copy lawsuits are showing up all over the state in a scattershot fashion is hard to overlook. Someone who wants to force all of the children back into masks clearly cooked up the strategy and has since been sending attorneys around to the various school districts and looking for parents who agree and are willing to act as the plaintiffs in these suits. Since the students involved are kept anonymous for privacy and health records reasons, it’s difficult to track down all of the data. But we should be “following the money” as the saying goes and determining who is funding the effort.

One other point in the lawsuits is worth mentioning here. As part of their reason for asking the courts to rule in their favor, the plaintiffs cite the “shockingly unfair or unjust decision of deciding whether to pull their children out of in-person learning, causing mental harm and havoc on the child and family.” But wait a minute here. Weren’t we repeatedly assured by the teacher’s unions for the past two years that remote learning was just fine and the schools should have been kept closed longer for in-person learning? What ever happened to that message?

Yet again we’re seeing even more demonstrations of the lack of seriousness that’s been applied in the response to the pandemic. Some day when all the dust has settled and someone writes the history of these past few years it’s going to be a national embarrassment.

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