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Florida parents sue school board over mandate that requires students to wear masks

The parents argue that forcing children to wear masks at school denies them their right to an equal education.

A group of parents in Florida is suing the Sarasota County school board for requiring students to wear face masks, which are recommended by federal health officials to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The suit was filed last week in a Sarasota County court by parents Amy Cook, Gustavo Collazo, Nicholas Eastman, and Catherine Gonzales after the school board approved an emergency 90-day mask mandate that extends its policy through to the end of the year.

The policy requires students attending in-person class to wear masks, with a few exceptions, for most of the school day, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The parents argue in the suit that forcing children to wear masks at school denies them their right to an equal education.

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

The 59-page complaint cites the Florida constitution as its reasoning as to why students shouldn't be forced to wear masks. It also goes on to say that parents should be the ones making decisions for their children, not the school board.

Caroline Zucker, the school board chair, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Shirley Brown, the vice-chair of the Sarasota County School Board, said they are following guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The mask isn’t so much to protect you, as to protect others from you," she said in a phone interview Friday. "The masks, I think, are helping us keep our numbers down in the schools. It can't just be optional."

Brown also said that the mask requirement is just one of the steps the district is taking to prevent a potential outbreak. There are no assemblies at the schools and the number of visitors is limited.

“The bottom line is that the CDC says that the sooner we comply, the sooner we defeat this," she said.

An attorney for the parents could not immediately be reached.

Collazo and Cook said in sworn affidavits that they have three children enrolled in the school district who have "severe" allergies and said that wearing a mask worsens their conditions.

"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 facemask is not in our children's best physical and psychological interests," Collazo and Cook said.

Eastman, who has one child in the district, and Gonzales, who has two, both said in their affidavits that the school board's policy interferes with their parental rights and decision-making ability.