Parents Sue School Board Over Decision to Extend Face Mask Policy

Last week, the Sarasota County school board voted to extend their face mask order until the end of the school year, prompting a group of parents to file a lawsuit.

The discussion on the wearing of face masks, which federal health officials recommend to help stop the coronavirus spread, was reported to have lasted for four hours during the school board's meeting last week. With a 3 - 2 vote, the school board decided to favor an extension of the emergency 90-day mask mandate. This decision effectively extends the policy through June 30, 2021.

Some parents were happy with the decision, Fox 13 noted, but a group of parents disagrees as they feel that it infringes on their child's right to an equal education. In fact, the group had already raised funds and were ready to take the case to court and hire an attorney even before last week's school board meeting.

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In an attempt to stop the school board from implementing the extended policy parents Amy Cook, Gustavo Collazo, Nicholas Eastman, and Catherine Gonzales filed a lawsuit on October 21, in a Sarasota County court. The suit named the Sarasota County School Board as the defendant.

The situation is like "Sophie's Choice"

The lawsuit says that the policy of mandatory wearing a face mask for students of tender years leaves their parents with little choice. It also likened the situation to "Sophie's Choice," a 1982 movie about a woman forced to choose which of their children will die. The lawsuit said that this Sophie's Choice is being foisted upon Sarasota County citizens in an irrational way that violates the Florida Constitution.

The plaintiffs also cited the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka race-based case the established that racial segregation of children in public school is unconstitutional. Virtual learning is an open option for parents who don't want to send their children to in-person learning.

A virtual classroom is not as good as in-person learning

However, the plaintiffs' attorney asserts that e-learning is not as good as in-person learning and it results in children receiving a separate and unequal education. He stressed that the wearing of masks policy is excessive and that it oversteps parental rights.

While the school board chair, Caroline Zucker, has yet to comment on the lawsuit, vice-chair Shirley Brown said that the school board is just following the CDCP guidelines. Speaking to TODAY, she said that a mask is not so much to protect the person wearing it but to protect others from that person. She said that wearing a face mask can't just be optional as it helps keep the number of infections down.

In their sworn affidavits, parents Collazo and Cook said that they have children enrolled in the school district whose severe allergies were worsened by wearing face masks. That is why they believe that they should be able to decide what's in their children's best interests. And they believe that wearing a face mask in their children's best physical and psychological interests.

The school board can always change their decision, Fox 13 noted, and as stated in their last meeting, they would revisit the topic when needed. The next school board meeting is on November 10, 2020.

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