Mask mandate lawsuit against Blue Valley, Olathe school districts headed to federal court

Education

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — There’s a new twist to a civil lawsuit that parents filed against the Blue Valley and Olathe school districts. The case will no longer be heard in Johnson County court but in federal court instead.

Linus Baker, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, said this change means the lawsuit will take longer to conclude and be much more expensive for the people involved, including the taxpayers footing the bill for the school districts.

“It’s kind of the proverbial hell or high water,” Baker said of the school districts’ stance. “We’re the bosses here. You parents listen to us. It’s not the other way around.”

Baker represents the 16 parents in this lawsuit and believes the move to federal court amounts to a bullying tactic.

“They erected another barrier for these parents to stop them from getting any kind of relief,” Baker said.

The Blue Valley and Olathe school districts filed a notice of removal based on the claim of equal protection, which falls under federal law.

The lawsuit claims that special needs students are exempt from wearing masks if it interferes with learning, but the districts’ boards of education aren’t allowing other students to do the same.

“So why are you treating these two differently?” Baker asked. “It’s arbitrary. They need to have a reason why they are doing it and they — I don’t think they’ve got any kind of reason why they’re doing.”

As the civil lawsuit moves forward, the school districts continue receiving grievances from parents regarding the mask mandates.

“When the county lifted it, I made it very clear that I don’t give my consent for my kids to be forced to wear a mask all day long,” Blue Valley parent Patrick Oswald said. “My kids are having issues. Headaches every day, breathing problems, and I have and I’m not the only one.”

On Wednesday, Oswald, who is not a plaintiff in the civil lawsuit, participated in an Senate Bill 40 hearing because he feels that the mandate takes away a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children.

Under S.B. 40, if a citizen contests a local rule that is contrary to the state’s emergency order, that local government — in this case, the school district — is required to have a hearing on the objection within 72 hours.

“I have to provide my consent for anything any medical device,” Oswald said. “An inhaler, an aspirin, a Tylenol, allergy medicine, their normal medicine, I have to provide consent to the school. A mask is no different than that.”

Baker hopes these efforts will convince school boards to make more of an effort to work with parents who feel their voices are not being heard.

“They’re scared, intimidated,” Baker said. “And, you know, these school boards have a big lobby, and they’ve got lots of money behind them so it’s not a good thing.”

The parents involved in the civil lawsuit are not asking the school boards to drop their mask mandates, simply that these particular 16 students be treated fairly and be allowed to go to school without masks that Baker said inhibits their learning.

The school districts declined comment for this story.

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