The father of a senior high school student has filed a face mask lawsuit against the Palo Alto Unified School District after his son was kicked out of his summer class for not wearing a face mask. A.J. Gokcek said that he's suing the school district to protect his son's right to education, adding that the teenager can't wear the mask because he has a speech-related disability.
The boy, referred to in public records as T.G., was supposed to take a history course from July 6 to July 23 so he could graduate in time. However, when T.G. arrived on the first day of class, he was asked to go to the principal's office for being maskless.
He subsequently refused to wear a face mask for three days in a row and was denied entry to the classroom, forcing the boy to withdraw from the class. Gokcek insisted that the school did not provide alternatives for his son.
'Never Speaking in Class Again'
Gokcek, who also serves as the attorney for the case, said that people already have difficulty understanding his 17-year-old son because of his speech impediment without a face mask on. The dad fears that with a mask, his boy will "never speak in class again." The student could also not likely graduate in time because he missed summer school.
The father said that filing the face mask lawsuit is also about upholding his son's mental and physical wellness. Gokcek believes that the teenager should be allowed to mingle with his classmates and not be isolated or asked to stay at home.
"I'd like him to have an education in the classroom, just like the other children," the dad said.
Gokcek sought the court's help for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the Palo Alto High School so that his son can still go to school. In California, schools have been ordered to provide "alternative educational opportunities for students" who cannot wear a face mask. However, that requirement from the California Department of Public Health was not yet in place when T.G. was supposed to have his summer class.
School District Asking for Proof
Despite the lawsuit, the Palo Alto Unified School District isn't budging and has disagreed with Gokcek's complaints.
In a written statement, Superintendent Don Austin said they offered many opportunities for the Gokcek family to coordinate with the school staff. They also noted that the student has no "qualifying disability," and the father refused to provide the school any sensitive medical information about his son's disability. Gokcek said that there are no state guidelines indicating they should present a doctor's note.
Austin also said that they are not worried about the lawsuit as the school district has always been straightforward about its face mask rules from the beginning. Palo Alto Unified School District requires all K-12 students, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, to wear a face mask for in-person classes.
Meanwhile, the court has denied Gokcek's request for a temporary restraining order. Judge Helen Williams said that the face mask lawsuit did not show "a likelihood of success on the merits."
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