SAN DIEGO, Calif. - California parents are suing Gov. Gavin Newsom and state health officials over the school mask mandate saying that covering children's faces is unnecessary and can even be harmful to young people's well-being.
The joint lawsuit was filed by advocacy groups, Let Them Breathe and Reopen California School, on Thursday in San Diego County Superior Court, representing more than 13,000 people.
The advocacy groups urged the state to stop mandatory masking, quarantining healthy children, and COVID-19 testing of asymptomatic students. Instead of forcing students to wear masks in schools, the parents are advocating for "mask choice," regardless of vaccination status.
Earlier this month, the California Department of Public Health announced that all students will be required to wear masks at school indoors. This went against the CDC guidelines that vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings.
The plaintiffs argued that mask wearing doesn't help kids in school at all.
"The ability to see, appreciate and communicate through facial expressions – which are hidden behind a mask – is crucial to a child’s social and emotional development," according to the lawsuit.
The groups are suing Gov. Gavin Newsom, Public Health Director Dr. Tomás Aragón, Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly, and Successful Schools Team Lead for Health and Human Services Dr. Naomi Bardach.
The Department of Public Health said they would not comment on pending litigation. However, they said that "California’s COVID-19 prevention strategies are the best way to fully open our schools while protecting students and staff. The state’s guidance, which aligns with the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, is how we keep our kids safe and start the school year fully in-person."
In early July, the state argued that most schools can’t accommodate a physical distancing at least 3-feet or more, so the best preventative measure is indoor masking.
"Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction," Ghaly said before the lawsuit was filed. "At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated – treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment."
Both sides agree that equity is key.
However, the plaintiffs are arguing that masked children are put at a social disadvantage.
"Of course it’s true that all children deserve equity and should not be singled out based on vaccination status. However, this should be accomplished by allowing all children to unmask and share their smiles," said Sharon McKeeman, founder of Let Them Breathe, which touts itself as a "pro-science, pro-safety, and pro-smile" organization. "Dr. Ghaly’s claim that masking does not interfere with in-person education is faulty in that facial cues, social skills, and comfort are just a few of the essential components of education that masking excludes."
Moreover, the parents believe that unvaccinated children should not be forced to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus but are not showing any symptoms, which they say is a form of discrimination.
"Once again California refuses to follow the science and punish kids with forced masking when they are at almost zero risk from COVID-19," said Scott Davison, legal advisor for the parents suing. "Despite guidance from the CDC and months of advocacy from parents, school boards and healthcare professionals, the state continues to make decisions based on politics instead of what is best for children."