DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — The Douglas County School District filed a lawsuit against the newly-formed Douglas County Health Department over the health board’s recently-approved public health order to relax the district’s mask mandate and quarantine policies.
The district said it filed the suit in US District Court in Denver Wednesday on behalf of the families of students with high-risk health conditions. It’s asking the court to uphold the district’s mask mandate and quarantine policies that were in place before the Oct. 8 public health order was passed.
That order allowed parents to opt their kids out of mask requirements “due to the negative impact [of masks] on that individual’s physical and/or mental health.” It also did away with most quarantines for students, prohibiting the quarantining of asymptomatic students and staff “because of exposure to a known COVID-19 positive case unless the exposure is associated with a known Outbreak.”
The lawsuit contends that the right to equal access to a quality public education for vulnerable students is threatened under the public health order and overlooks well-established research.
"So, a child that maybe has some cognitive issues who really truly can't tolerate a mask, he relies on his peers to be able to do that for him to remain safe," DCSD Director David Ray said.
A district press release said “The Order ignores well-settled science and guidance regarding COVID-19 mitigation and puts the health and learning of vulnerable students – those with chronic conditions, respiratory issues, and other serious health challenges – in jeopardy."
The lawsuit also claims the public health order discriminates against medically at-risk children with disabilities and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act
The district said the increase in COVID-19 cases in the state and in Douglas County is particularly troubling for students and school districts. It cites data showing the delta variant infects children at much higher rate than with the previous virus.
This is the first lawsuit against the newly-formed agency, which was created after Douglas County commissioners decided to end their 55-year partnership with the Tri-County Health Department – partly due to a mask requirement order issued by the Tri-County Health Department at the end of August for students ages 2+.
In a statement, President of the Douglas County Board of Health, Doug Benevento, wrote the order strikes a balance between those students who he perceives could be psychologically impacted by wearing masks and students who are medically vulnerable.
"We just received and are reviewing the lawsuit filed this morning by DCSD. We are confident that our Order strikes the appropriate balance with respect to mask mandates in our schools," Benevento wrote. "Our Order allows for masking but provides exemptions for parents with children that would be negatively impacted from a health or psychological standpoint from a blanket mask requirement. The pending lawsuit against the school district by an asthmatic student claiming they have violated the ADA demonstrates that a blanket mask mandate does not strike that balance. Our Order is also more proactive than any requirement the State of Colorado currently has in place."