Sarasota Parents Sue School Board Over Masks

A group of Sarasota County parents filed a lawsuit against the Sarasota County School Board over the district’s mask requirements. The parents’ goal is to force the school district to make wearing masks optional for in-person learning.

“As parents, we should be able to decide what is in our children’s best interest when it comes to making medical decisions, and being compelled to wear a mask is not in our children’s best physical and psychological interests,” said plaintiffs Gustavo Collazo and Amy Cook in an affidavit.

The Sarasota parents’ lawsuit, filed on Oct. 21, attempts to invoke the landmark 1954 civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education. In a reference to the “separate but equal” doctrine that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in Brown v. Board, the parents claim that the school district’s mask policy forces students who may suffer from wearing a mask to choose the “separate and unequal” option of e-learning.

“The policy of mandatory facemask wear for students of tender years leaves parents with little choice,” the lawsuit reads. “Subject their children to a policy that is not in the best interest of their child, or to be compelled to homeschool their children in a manner that is both separate and unequal and also results in additional harms unrelated to COVID-19.”

Despite the lawsuit, the school district has stayed firm in its resolve to continue to enforce the mask policy.

“The masks…are helping us keep our numbers down in the schools,” said Shirley Brown, the vice-chair of the Sarasota County School Board. “It can’t just be optional.”

Other Sarasota parents have moved to defend the school district’s actions. One of those parents, Bailey Lowther, went as far as to file a motion to intervene on Oct. 30, aiming to insert herself alongside the school district as a defendant in the case.

“If the plaintiffs were to win and the mask mandate were repealed, that would obviously have a direct impact on my children,” Lowther said. “I don’t want the only parental voice to be the voice of these anti-mask people.”

Experts say the lawsuit has little to no chance of success.

“Brown versus Board of Education [does not fit] into the argument in this case,” argued Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health medicine and pharmacy at the University of South Florida. “A fundamental right is not being denied. [The mask policy] is being conditioned on personal responsibility, good science and common sense.”

Even so, the lawsuit could easily cost the school district tens of thousands of dollars before it is resolved. According to school board attorney Art Hardy, the district has hired Tampa attorney Jason Margolin to represent the school board. Margolin is a litigation partner at national law firm Akerman LLP, where rates range from $260 to $330 an hour.

Most parents view masks as “a necessary evil,” said Bailey Lowther. “I think it is appalling that the Sarasota County School Board has to waste a moment of its time or money defending against this.”

Featured image: Students wearing masks outside. Unmodified photo by Street Lab used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/32g9L4a)

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