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Douglas County health board, faced with lawsuit, is no longer allowing schools to opt out of mask mandates

'There’s nothing left to sue us about,' health board president said

The new Douglas County Board of Health on Friday amended its first public health order, which had allowed parents to opt their children out of COVID-19 masking mandates, so it would no longer apply to the Douglas County School District, which had sued over the order.

The revised order is written so it still applies to private businesses and private facilities such as child care centers and private schools. The amended heath order allows parents to opt their children out of masking rules at those facilities with a note declaring their children have a medical or mental health exemption. Adults can opt themselves out.

“There’s nothing left to sue us about,” health board President Doug Benevento said.

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The Douglas County School District had joined several families in suing the Douglas County Health Department, alleging its public health order allowing opt outs violated civil rights by limiting safe access to education for students at risk of COVID-19.

The county board of health adopted its first public health order on Oct. 8, allowing opt-outs of masking mandates in the county and limiting quarantines for COVID-19 exposures not associated with an outbreak, at the urging of parents opposed to mandates.

In response to the school district’s suit, U.S. District Judge John Kane has issued a temporary restraining order again the county’s masking opt-out provision through Nov. 22. The case is due in court for a status hearing on Monday.

Benevento said the changes to the Douglas County agency’s order aim to bring the policy in line with the judge’s directions, and to avoid further legal costs of defending the order in court.

The amended order acknowledges that Kane halted enforcement of the public health order in Douglas County public schools. It now recommends the district make masking a personal choice, instead of ordering that it allow people to opt out.

Benevento also said the county health department plans to swiftly set up a meeting with the new Douglas County school board once it is seated.

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