Law & Courts

Families Sue Rhode Island’s Governor to Overturn His School Mask Mandate

By Linda Borg, The Providence Journal — September 17, 2021 2 min read
Students line up to have their temperature taken as they return for the first time as their school, The Learning Community, reopens to in-person learning after it closed for the pandemic a year ago, in Central Falls, R.I., on March 29, 2021.
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My daughter is growing moody and withdrawn. My child’s attention span has dropped. My daughter can’t breathe. My oldest has allergies and has developed a rash from wearing a mask all day.

These are just some of the reasons why 16 parents, in a suit filed Thursday in Superior Court, Providence, have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Gov. Dan McKee’s mandate that masks be worn in all Rhode Island schools.

The lawsuit also claims that McKee lacks the constitutional authority to impose this mandate, citing limits the General Assembly placed on his executive powers over the summer.

See Also

Image of a face mask on school notebook.
Steven White/iStock/Getty

Last month, McKee called on General Assembly leaders to reconvene to reaffirm his COVID-19 emergency powers, but the leaders of the House and Senate responded that there was no need because McKee retained authority over health and safety matters.

The families — who live in Glocester, Smithfield, North Smithfield, and Warwick — are seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the mandate.

The suit also questions the science behind masks in school, quoting a recent article from New York Magazine that said studies used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “do not show evidence that masking children in school works.”

The author, David Zweig, wrote that many European countries, along with the World Health Organization, have “explicitly recognized that the decision to mask students carries with it potential academic and social harms for children and may lack a clear benefit.”

The plaintiffs say mask-wearing threatens to cause serious and long-lasting damage on their children’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

More Parents Suing Over School Mask Mandates

Parents have filed at least three lawsuits in Pennsylvania challenging Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide school mask mandate, which went into effect starting Sept. 7 and sparked anti-mask protests in some districts.

Jessica LeBlanc of Smithfield blames her daughter’s growing lethargy and depression on constant mask-wearing.

“The cure is worse than the disease due to the lasting impacts the actions (of) adults in authority have on this generation,” she wrote. “Our child who once enjoyed her teachers now fears them. Whenever we tell her to reach out if she having issues ... breathing with the mask, she responds, ‘I’ll get in trouble.’”

Another plaintiff, Jonathan Barrett of Glocester, wrote that his 6th grade daughter wonders why it’s OK for her to eat at a restaurant without a mask but has to wear one while in school.

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

Julie and Paul McKenney of Glocester had similar complaints.

“We believe the social and emotional effects of COVID restrictions (masking, social distancing) have had on our children far outweigh any health risks from the virus itself,” they wrote. “During snack time they are told to hurry up, face forward, not to talk, making our children feel like they are doing something wrong, that they are going to get in trouble. We need to get these kids back to the business of being educated in a comfortable, NORMAL environment.”

Another Glocester resident, Aimee Sayers, is home-schooling her children, ages 4 and 10, because of the COVID health measures adopted by the schools.

“I will not send my child to an establishment being run like a prison,” she said. “I don’t understand why we are back to square on with restrictions in schools...Not a single pediatric death in the state and we are continuing to place restrictions on the least affected group.”

But the state Department of Health said since the start of the pandemic, Rhode Island has had three children in Rhode Island die who were COVID-19 positive. However, COVID was not determined to be the primary cause of death in any of these instances.

The parents are calling for the court to declare McKee’s executive order null and void and to prohibit him from issuing any further executive orders related to COVID.

Copyright (c) 2021, The Providence Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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