Judge dismisses local group’s lawsuit challenging state’s school mask mandate

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego County judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and state public health officials brought by the group Let Them Breathe to challenge California’s K-12 mask mandate.

In the 16-page ruling, Judge Cynthia Freeland held that the state has a “compelling interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19” and that Newsom has the legal authority to require masks in schools. The group, along with Reopen California Schools, filed suit in July to overturn the mandate and to challenge COVID testing policies in schools, arguing that mask-wearing is harmful to children and instead should be optional.

Freeland wrote that the groups’ disagreements with the efficacy of masks and the impact of the pandemic on children doesn’t make the state’s reasoning for the rules “arbitrary or irrational.”

“To reiterate the point made above, courts should decline to second-guess public health officials’ actions in an “‘area fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties,'” she said in the ruling.

California public health guidance requires masks to be worn in a number of settings such as indoors at K-12 schools and child care settings as well as on public transit, in health care facilities and detention centers. They are required to be worn by unvaccinated people and are recommended for all in indoor public places.

State public health officials contend that masks are a mitigation measure against the spread of COVID-19, stating that when unvaccinated people correctly wear masks, “they protect others as well as themselves.”

Freeland wrote that the groups have acknowledged the pandemic is ongoing, which she said runs contrary to their argument that conditions “no longer warrant a state of emergency.”

“This Court simply is not in a position to second-guess the Governor’s or the Legislature’s determination of when the declared state of emergency is no longer warranted,” she wrote.

Let Them Breathe and Reopen California Schools said in an emailed statement they’re vowing to “keep fighting for mask choice.” In San Diego County, supporters of Let Them Breathe have held numerous rallies this year outside of schools and addressed local school boards on the issue.

They’re now working with their lawyers to determine next steps, the statement shows.

“While it’s disappointing school masking was not allowed to be put on trial, at least it appears schools are free to enforce the mask mandate anyway they see fit and are not required to remove kids from the classroom for not wearing a mask,” Let Them Breathe founder Sharon McKeeman said in a statement.

McKeeman added, “It seems the state’s strategy was to dismiss the case without having to address that masking at school is not effective and is harmful to students.”

Check back for updates to this developing story.

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