COVID-19 restrictions are being relaxed in states and cities across the nation as infection rates and deaths have slowed, but mask mandates imposed on students in New York City and Washington, D.C., have prompted parents to push back with new lawsuits.

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams lifted mask mandates for K-12 students recently, but kept them in place for children age 4 and under in schools, citing the unavailability of vaccines for that age group.

A group of parents with children still affected by the mask mandate rallied outside City Hall, promising to file a lawsuit against the city.

“Once you start looking at these regulations that the Department of Health has imposed on our kids, you realize not only are they anti-child, not only are they anti-science, not only are they anti-parent, but they’re unlawful,” said attorney and public-school parent Michael Chessa, Fox News reports

Megan Martin, a parent who is an anesthesiologist, told the crowd, “My 4-year-old daughter’s face remains covered, not seeing the smiles of her friends or teachers. Continuing to mask 2 to 4-year-olds is unnecessary, and worse, does real harm to their educational and social growth.”

In addition to a lawsuit, a petition has garnered 5,390 signatures as of March 10, asking that masking of pre-K students be optional.

In the District of Columbia, two parents of children in a Catholic school are suing the city government, including Mayor Bowser, over her decision to relax masking rules all over the city except for schools. The parents, represented by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), allege the latest city policy discriminates against religion.

“Defendants’ mandate requiring the children to wear masks in their Catholic school classrooms—while allowing children and adults to not wear masks nearly everywhere else—is arbitrary, unscientific, and irrational,” the lawsuit states. “Under Defendants’ policy, a child could sit for hours at the Wizards game at the crowded Capitol One Arena without wearing a mask, but she must cover her face for seven hours a day, the moment she steps into her Catholic school building.”

ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman explained the legal issues at stake in the case in a press release.

“Mayor Bowser is unconstitutionally burdening these religious schools and the children who attend them by still requiring that they wear masks when she has lifted this mandate for almost every other privately run business and organization in the district,” Bowman said.

“It’s legally baseless to say that private schools can’t make their own decisions regarding masks while nearly all other private entities can. The mayor’s actions are unfairly punishing these schools. In most counties, private schools weren’t even required to wear masks, and in most public schools, the mask mandates are lifted. We urge Mayor Bowser to repeal her illegal mandate on religious schools immediately.”

Sheila Dugan, a mother of a kindergartner and a plaintiff in the case, also spoke out on the reasons for initiating a lawsuit.

“As a mother of three children, I’ve seen firsthand how much stress and discomfort children have faced over the last two years,” Dugan said. “There’s no excuse for freeing bars and strip clubs from mask mandates while forcing my kindergartner to wear a mask to read, pray, and play dodgeball. As a Catholic, I’m obligated to protect my children from harm; that’s why we filed this lawsuit.”

Focus on the Family president Jim Daly addressed the issue of mask mandates in schools recently in a blog post titled, “Enough is Enough – Let Children Take off their Masks.

“Taking off the mask represents both a symbolic and scientific step in the right direction,” Daly said. “It’s time to reclaim what has been wrestled from us. It’s between God and parents – not government – regarding how we are to raise and manage the health of our children. There are times when government has a right to institute public health positions on a state or national level, but that is not the case here as scientific evidence does not support the current policies regarding our kids.” 

The ADF case is Dugan v. Bowser.


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