A group of Sarasota County parents has sued the school district, arguing public school face mask policy denies children their right to an equal education.
With the lawsuit, plaintiffs Amy Cook, Gustavo Collazo, Nicholas Eastman and Catherine Gonzales hope to stop the district from compelling students to wear face masks as a requirement to attend school. The Sarasota County School Board is named as a defendant in the suit.
"The policy of mandatory facemask [sic] wear for students of tender years leaves parents with little choice: subject their children to a policy that is not in the best interest of the child, or to be compelled to home school their children in a manner that is both separate and unequal, and also results in additional harms unrelated to COVID-19,” the lawsuit states.
The 59-page suit cites the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case that established that every child has the right to an equal education as a reason why the policy should be stopped. It also invokes the Florida Constitution, which states children must be given a “free and uniform” public education.
The lawsuit, funded by a GoFundMe campaign that raised $11,360, comes after the school board voted to extend its 90-day emergency mask mandate. The new policy, which requires everyone — with a few exceptions — on a district campus or vehicle to wear a mask, will sunset on June 30.
Board members have said the policy is put in place to protect students and teachers’ health.
“Parents and teachers are wanting a sense of certainty,” board member Shirley Brown said. “They’re wanting to know that we are going to support them and their health and their safety and their security, and the proven, effective way to do that is to continue the mask policy.”
However, the lawsuit argues that the policy has “no rational purpose when analyzed through the prism of actual science.” It states that children will face long-term effects if the policy is to continue through the end of the year.
In an affidavit, Collazo and Cook stated they have three children in the district and some have severe allergies while another is “borderline asthmatic.” They stated the face masks exacerbate their children’s symptoms.
“It is a policy instituted not based on reliable data or science, but on irrational fear and the politics of the day,” the lawsuit states. “Such policy is not in a minor child’s best interest, but actually serves to harm a child’s well-being.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines recommend that school students and staff wear face coverings.
Additionally, local infectious disease specialist Manuel Gordillo said that from the studies he has seen, there is no evidence of negative impact of prolonged mask-wearing, including fears of excessive carbon dioxide exposure. Mask benefits, Gordillo said, far outweigh the possible risks.
The case has been assigned to 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh, but a hearing has not yet been scheduled.