Cobb parents sue school district over mask mandate

Aleks Gilbert, Marietta Daily Journal, Ga.
·3 min read

Apr. 17—A group of Cobb parents has sued the Cobb School District over its mask mandate, arguing that, contrary to guidance from state and local public health officials, mask-wearing is useless and students who reject it are forced into a substandard virtual learning environment.

In short, the mandate has created "two separate, segregated and unequal classes of students," reads the lawsuit, invoking Brown v. Board of Education.

In response to questions sent by the MDJ, district spokeswoman Nan Kiel said the school district had just received the April 9 lawsuit, adding its attorneys would review the lawsuit "before providing a legal response."

"The District remains committed to following public health guidance and continues to rely on public health guidance provided by Cobb and Douglas Public Health," Kiel said.

The district closed its schools and pivoted to an all-virtual learning environment in March 2020, reopening to some students Oct. 5. The district gradually expanded the number of students who could return for in-person learning and now offers that option to students in all grade levels.

Universal mask-wearing was among the safety protocols that would allow the district to safely resume in-person learning, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said last fall.

"(Mask wearing is) a primary part of the plan because it's a very important piece that allows us to come back into face-to-face as an option," he told the Cobb Board of Education in September. "The latest guidance that came out identified that proper face mask-wearing is very pivotal in a school being able to reopen, and that's certainly going to help us remain open."

The lawsuit was filed in Cobb Superior Court on the parents' behalf by attorneys Mitch Skandalakis and Robert Madayag, who argue that students forced to learn virtually because they refuse to wear masks are receiving a substandard education.

The attorneys cite several studies that have found that increased screen time can negatively impact brain development, educational outcomes and mental and emotional health.

"As an alternative to the known harm of elevated levels of screen time, in order to attend school, the school district forces children to wear masks, a scientifically baseless 'solution' that is pure political theater and harms children in its own way," the attorneys write, again marshaling a number of studies that have found little evidence that masks limit the virus's spread.

The CDC lists five broad strategies districts can use to prevent in-school transmission. But two should be prioritized: maximizing social-distancing as much as possible and requiring "universal and correct use of masks."

"Masks should be worn at all times, by all people in school facilities, with certain exceptions for certain people, or for certain settings or activities, such as while eating or drinking. Masks should be required in all classroom and non-classroom settings, including hallways, school offices, restrooms, gyms, auditoriums, etc."

And the CDC's "Guidance for wearing masks" webpage states that "COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets" which "travel into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. ... Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth."

The lawsuit also takes aim at the district's contact tracing and quarantining protocols, saying they violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

The parents — Caryn Sonderman, Matt Gill, Andrei Marcu, Gretchen Brocard, John Hanson and Erin White — are seeking injunctive relief barring the district from continuing its enforcement of the mandate.

Parties to the lawsuit have been ordered to appear before Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge James Bodiford April 20 at 11 a.m.