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Education

Metro East Parents File Lawsuit Against School District To Unmask Their Students

Parents and Speak for Students members rally July 26, 2021, outside Silver Creek Elementary in Troy, Illinois, ahead of a Triad Unit 2 School Board meeting. Three parents sued the school district aiming to lift rules requiring their children wear masks at school.
Derik Holtmann
/
Belleville News-Democrat
Parents and Speak for Students members rally July 26, 2021, outside Silver Creek Elementary in Troy, Illinois, ahead of a Triad Unit 2 School Board meeting. Three parents sued the school district aiming to lift rules requiring their children wear masks at school.

Three parents of Triad Community Unit School District 2 students have filed for temporary restraining orders that, if approved by a judge, would allow their children to attend school without a mask, at least in the short term.

The motion was filed by attorney Tom DeVore on behalf of Autumn Meier, Amy Honer and Jamey Hartley. Between the three of them, they have nine children in their care attending Triad schools, according to the complaint.

“The Triad School District is aware of the case filed by three parents regarding the student masking mandate,” said Superintendent Leigh Lewis in a statement through attorney Stephanie Jones. “Our district attorney plans to fight this case.

“Triad has worked hard for the past 18 months to provide in-person learning in a safe environment. Now, we are faced with a group of parents who want to jeopardize the health and safety of our staff and students by dismantling the work we’ve done in providing layered mitigation strategies.”

DeVore was not available for an interview Wednesday or Thursday.

DeVore, an attorney from Bond County, has filed numerous cases pushing back against state COVID mitigations and guidance for more than a year. While many of his early cases against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders failed, he’s been successful in acquiring temporary restraining orders in cases similar to the latest filed against Triad Schools.

Illinois county health departments have the right to issue quarantine orders, but school districts do not, DeVore argues in the complaint. Further, he argues that a mask is a type of “modified quarantine” and that there is no health regulation to require asymptomatic students to wear masks.

People who are infected with the COVID-19 virus may be asymptomatic but still able to spread the virus to others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Temporary restraining orders have been issued on behalf of parents or guardians represented by DeVore in Carlyle CUSD 1 in Clinton County, North Mac CUSD 34 in Macoupin County, Quincy Public School Schools 172 in Adams County and Hillsboro Community School District 3 in Montgomery County.

Triad Education Association President Andrew Frey shared a statement Thursday saying that, contrary to insinuations on social media, the union had not filed any lawsuits against the district over the possibility that students might not be masked, nor were they aware of any lawsuits.

“Teachers do not like to wear masks any more than the next person, but we know they work,” Frey wrote in a statement. “Many of our teachers do not feel comfortable with students coming to school without masks, including 67 percent of our elementary teachers. Elementary teachers are in the unique position of being able to be vaccinated if they choose but teach students who cannot be vaccinated.

“These teachers, if the mask mandate is lifted, will be forced to teach in front of 20-25 unmasked, unvaccinated students. This puts our teachers at a much higher risk to contract COVID-19, and take it home to their own children, parents, or grandparents. Some of our teachers and their families have health concerns that, if they contract COVID-19, could cost them, or their loved ones, their lives.”

The three parents in Triad are also seeking a class action lawsuit on behalf of other parents and legal guardians in the district.

Before the lawsuit can be considered a class action lawsuit, the judge must certify the class. The order was sent to Judge Ronald Foster on Tuesday, but has not yet been certified, according to the court docket.

Before Pritzker issued an executive order over the summer requiring universal masking in schools, Triad planned to encourage but not require staff and students to mask, according to the tentative plan shared before Pritzker’s executive order.

“Everyone should bring a mask to school daily as situations may occur when it is not possible to maintain three feet of physical distance,” the plan read.

After the executive order, Triad, like most school districts in Illinois, complied with the mask mandate. Failing to comply, the Illinois State Board of Education warned, could compromise a district’s recognition status and, in turn, its funding.

Dozens of schools were sent letters over the summer to notify them that they were being placed on probation, with most quickly adopting universal masking mandates.

Still, in school board meetings, in Facebook groups and, now, in court filings, some parents across the state who are opposed to compulsory masking have argued that the mandate is not a binding law and have pressured school boards and superintendents to defy the mandate and adopt mask-optional policies.

“These lawsuits only serve to punish school districts for following the state’s health and safety guidance,” Jones said in a statement. “The lawsuits cost taxpayer dollars that districts could be spending on providing a safe and healthy environment for students to learn. And, more than anything else, these lawsuits are major distractions for school districts that are working harder than ever to provide students an education in school in a safe manner.”

A hearing for the case is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m., according to the docket sheet.

Megan Valley is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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