HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL — A group of parents has filed a lawsuit against the Hillsborough County School District objecting to the district’s policy that all students, staff and visitors wear face masks at school.
Hillsborough County will begin the school year Monday with all students learning online from their homes. Then, on Aug. 31, the district will reopen brick-and-mortar schools.
In a survey conducted in July, 56 percent of Hillsborough County parents said they wanted to send their children back to brick-and-mortar schools.
However, parents Kevin Levonas, Angelina Aucello, Matt and Priscilla Poage, Justin and Grace Warniment, Elizabeth Hagan, Mike Miller and Robert and Evelyn Griffith filed a lawsuit Friday in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, contending that the requirement to wear masks is a violation of the Florida Constitution forbidding the interference of a parent’s right to decline the use of a medical device.
Additionally, because the school district has stated that children who don’t wear face masks and have no medical excuse will not be allowed to attend school, Tampa civil rights attorney Patrick Leduc, who is representing the parents, said the requirement interferes with the fundamental right of children to receive a free public education.
“Parents have the sole right to make decisions in their children’s best interest,” Leduc said. “There is not one single instance, anywhere in the entire world, where one single school teacher has contracted COVID-19 from a student. This lawsuit seeks to protect children from an irrational policy that proposes to protect them, but has the actual effect of harming children.”
He quoted the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said the overall rate of the coronavirus in children is 447 cases per 100,000 children.
“To date, there has been only three deaths involving children in the state of Florida,” Leduc said. “Nationally, influenza in children has killed over twice as many as COVID-19.”
He said there’s no scientific evidence that requiring children as young as 5 years old to wear face masks seven hours a day five days a week will reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“In fact, it is a policy instituted not based on reliable data or science, but on irrational fear,” Leduc said.
Not only is the alternative — home-schooling — impractical for parents who must work outside the home, but a 2018 study by the National Institutes of Health indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day engaging in screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning, according to parent Grace Warniment, who has created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the parents’ legal expenses.
“E-learning is not the same as in-person learning,” Warniment said. “Therefore, students are not receiving an education equal to those physically on campus.”
Hillsborough County Schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja said the school district’s mandate to require face coverings for all staff, students and visitors is based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and recommendations from local medical experts who gave testimony at a school board meeting earlier this month.
“The experts agree that face coverings are one of the most effective means for preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Arja said. “We are sensitive to the unique challenges with requiring face coverings in a school setting, but we believe it is one of the most important strategies we have to provide an additional layer of protection for everyone on our campuses. There are reasonable exemptions built into the mandate, and we will work with families based on their individual needs.”
This is just the latest in a series of lawsuits over the reopening of Florida schools. The Florida Teachers Union is suing the state over the Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s July 6 emergency order demanding that all Florida schools reopen classrooms this month on threat of having state funding withheld.
In a separate suit filed last week, the Pasco County teachers union is suing the Pasco County School District.
This article originally appeared on the Tampa Patch