The Douglas County School District and families of students at high risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 are suing the county’s new health department in federal court, alleging a public health order allowing people to opt out of masking rules in the county violates the civil rights of students with disabilities.
The lawsuit asks the court to block enforcement of the county’s health order, which also limits quarantines for people exposed to COVID-19.
The school district’s goal is to go back to its policy requiring universal masking among people 2 and older in its buildings as a COVID safety measure. That policy allows medical exemptions to masking.
“No parent should be forced to choose between sending their children to school and risking their health, and no family should have to choose between access to learning and putting their child’s life in jeopardy,” district Board President David Ray said in a statement. “The message is simple: In these very complex times, our most vulnerable children cannot be left behind.”
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
Plaintiffs include families of students with conditions ranging from cystic fibrosis, autism and Down syndrome, to families of students with rare genetic disorders, severe respiratory disorders and asthma.
Some plaintiffs have multiple conditions that place them at high risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19.
The fledgling Douglas County Health Department — formed this year after the county left the Tri-County Health Department — passed its first public health order on Oct. 8. The order allowed parents and guardians to opt children out of masking mandates in the county with a note saying masks negatively affected a student’s mental and physical health. Adults can opt themselves out.
The health order also placed more limits on how people without COVID symptoms could be quarantined if exposed to COVID-19.
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