The Pike County Board of Education has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed in November which sought to end the district’s mandate that students wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In an answer filed this week by BOE attorney Neal Smith, the Board asks that the lawsuit filed by Mikey Ratliff on behalf of his child, a student in the district, and by Levi Newsom, a local resident, be dismissed for several reasons, including a lack of a “basis in law or fact.”
In the lawsuit Ratliff and Newsom, who are representing themselves in the matter, claim that Ratliff’s child’s rights were violated because, in order to attend school, the child would be required to wear a mask, violating the child’s “fundamental right to an education.”
The plaintiffs, who initially filed documents which misidentified the defendants as the “Mayfield City School District Board of Education,” asked for a restraining order to prevent the board from retaining its mask mandate for students and teachers in schools.
However, in its answer, the Pike County BOE said that its policy was based on the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Kentucky Department of Education and Kentucky Department of Health, and that the lawsuit has no basis in law or fact.
Primarily, Smith points out in the answer, Ratliff cannot bring an action and act as an attorney for a minor child.
Even if that were not true, Smith wrote, the policy at issue was “properly adopted, does not violate any fundamental right of (Ratliff’s child), does not identify any particularized harm and misunderstands and misapplies both the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions.”
The school district, Smith wrote, had not denied any requests for religious or medical exemptions regarding the mask mandates and has adopted policies requiring social distancing when possible to reduce the transmission of the virus.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, Smith wrote, has endorsed mandatory masking and has endorsed the CDC’s position that universal face mask requirements in schools are appropriate and safe.
In addition, Smith wrote, the mask mandate is the “best method to ensure academic continuity for both individual students and schools as a whole.
“ … The occurrence of mass outbreaks and school closures has been shown to be materially related to whether the particular district mandated masks,” Smith wrote. “Thus, the mask mandate is believed to reduce the school district’s risk of disruptive quarantines and mass closure of school buildings.”
Ratliff, Smith wrote, has not requested that his child be able to be at school without a mask.
Also, Smith wrote, if the mask mandate were removed, the risk of infection increase for students, teachers, staff and all those people with whom they come into contact, and it would also increase the likelihood that the district or schools would be forced into remote learning.
“The mask mandate was a reasonable policy decision made to protect students in the school district in light of elevated transmission of the COVID-19, and now the Delta variant and Omicron,” Smith wrote. “Granting (a temporary restraining order) would unnecessarily subject the students and public to a health risk and subject children throughout the school district to an elevated risk of being forced back into remote learning. If the court does not dismiss the claims of both Levi Newsom and Mikey Ratliff, filed on behalf of his minor child ... it should deny the motion, maintain the status quo of the mask mandate while this dispute is litigated.”