Parents sue Georgia school district for not ordering masks

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ATLANTA – Four parents are suing the Cobb County School District on behalf of their children, saying the fact that Georgia’s second-largest school district does not require masks means their students cannot safely attend classes in person because of their disability.

The complaint was filed on Friday in federal court in Atlanta. He says the suburban Atlanta district, which has 107,000 students, is in violation of federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These laws govern how students with disabilities are treated in public schools.

“Rather than using the tools known and available to mitigate the threat of COVID-19 and protect complainants’ access to school services, programs and activities, the district has acted with a deliberate disregard for the rights of complainants to inclusion, health and education, ”the complaint alleges.

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Earlier this week, when the Southern Poverty Law Center threatened to sue on behalf of the students, Cobb Schools told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “as with any problem, the individual needs of students are supported student by student. and we actively encourage any student or family to discuss their needs with their local school.

The lawsuit asks U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten Sr. to order the district to follow CDC guidelines, including not only on masks, but on issues such as ventilation, physical distancing and contact tracing. He also seeks pecuniary damages and legal fees. He also asks Batten to issue a temporary restraining order as soon as possible.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed across the country seeking to force schools to require masks under the Federal Persons with Disabilities Act.

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The question of whether to require masks in Cobb schools has been the subject of protests for months. Like many in Georgia, Cobb lifted his order for masks late last year. But many districts re-imposed mask orders as school began in August, due to the rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19. Although some districts have since lifted orders for masks, an Associated Press tally found that more than half of Georgia’s 1.7 million students were required to wear face coverings at school during the height of the state’s latest wave of COVID-19.

Cobb, however, dug out, saying the masks would only be highly recommended. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale presented a resounding defense of the policy last month, noting that cases were on the decline in Cobb schools – as they were in schools and among the general population of the state – and saying that ‘There was no evidence that the mask requirement reduced cases in schools.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published two studies in recent months concluding that masks are effective in reducing cases and advising that masks be mandatory for everyone in schools when the virus is spreading rapidly, regardless vaccination policy.

The lawsuit said Ragsdale’s position is based on “questionable research and hand-picked data.”

Cobb was not alone in this position. Cherokee and Forsyth counties never imposed mask orders last year, unlike Cobb. But Cobb has been torn apart by the conflict, with a narrow Conservative majority within his school board holding the line against groups demanding masks. The lawsuit alleges that the four white Republican members of the school board “form a majority voting bloc politically and racially” that disregards the position of three black Democrats on the board.

The lawsuit says students are at higher risk for COVID-19 due to their medical conditions. One has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the other has a weakened immune system resulting from a previous leukemia, the other has an impaired airway clearance called bronchiectasis, and the other has severe asthma and history of pneumonia.

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“The children of the plaintiffs called on the defendants to implement effective COVID-19 safety protocols – as they did last year – so they can go to school. But these requests were refused or ignored, ”indicates the trial. “Now the complainants are at home, isolated from their peers, where they receive inadequate online education or no education at all. “

Georgia’s recent peak has been particularly bad for children. A roaring outbreak that coincided with back-to-school saw a two-week stretch to Labor Day when nearly one in 50 school-aged children statewide had confirmed infections and 1 in 70 Cobb . For the first time in the pandemic, the per capita rate among children aged 5 to 17 has exceeded the per capita rate among adults 23 and older. Although new cases are down sharply, data released on Friday shows that school-aged children still have a higher per capita infection rate than adults. Statistics also show that case rates remain nearly three times higher than before the start of the school year.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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