Nearly 300 parents filed a lawsuit against Rock Ridge Public Schools on Monday in an effort to block the district’s mask mandate.
Rock Ridge, which was formed in July 2020 when the Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert school systems combined, mandates that all staff, students and visitors must wear a mask at all times while inside a district facility. Superintendent Noel Schmidt said in a statement to the News Tribune that the district is aware of the lawsuit.
“At the current time, the district will be fully enforcing its COVID-19 plan, including the requirement that all students, staff and visitors wear a mask while in any district facility,” Schmidt said. “The district is committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace for all our faculty, staff, students and visitors, and is committed to following its plan as well as the guidance from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Minnesota Department of Health.”
According to court documents, the 283 parents who signed on to the lawsuit want the school district to either cease implementation of its COVID-19 mitigation plan, revise the plan to remove the requirement that students wear masks or create an alternative learning option where parents of students who choose not to wear face masks “will not be subject to criminal prosecution.”
The lawsuit claims that the mask mandate does not further the health and safety of students, staff and visitors and “is arbitrary in its implementation.” It also claims the mask mandate “denies students their right to an education under the Minnesota Constitution and will force parents into unlawful actions should their children exercise recognized fundamental rights.”
The lawsuit claims the mask mandate is an “unwanted and unwarranted preventative medical treatment” which individuals have a right to refuse. The parents claim if a student refuses to wear a mask the district will be denied their right of an education. The lawsuit claims if students do not attend school due to the mask mandate, the parents would be subject to “criminal prosecution.”
Parents can be prosecuted for truancy violations, but would not serve time in jail.
Minnesota schools are not allowed to offer distance learning this year but were allowed to apply to be fully approved or provisionally approved online providers to allow families to continue distance learning and to allow distance learning during quarantine. The application process through the Minnesota Department of Education closed in the summer.
Schools that did not apply to be online providers can use homebound instruction for individual students, small groups of students or classes if there are COVID-19 cases or close contacts. Schools can also use up to 30 total instructional days throughout the course of the entire school year for temporary shifts to online learning at the grade, school or district level.
The lawsuit claims that, to date, no widely accepted medical or scientific studies have demonstrated the efficacy of masks in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in children. The CDC has cited multiple studies that show cloth masks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in all people and “can both block up to 50-70% of these fine droplets and particles and limit the forward spread of those that are not captured.”
A motion hearing is set for 10 a.m. Friday at the Virginia courthouse.