Parents, nonprofit sue Missoula schools over mask mandates

Suit alleges mandates unconstitutionally infringe on children’s rights

By: - August 27, 2021 4:56 pm

A handful of parents are suing three Missoula school districts over the mandatory mask policies arguing the science behind masking is flawed and unconstitutionally interferes with their children’s freedom of expression.

Of 12 plaintiffs, 11 are parents suing on behalf of their children enrolled at the three schools named in the suit, including one set of parents who unenrolled their children from defendant Target Range School District over its indoor mask mandate. To help pay for the suit’s legal costs, a GoFundMe was started with all proceeds going to Quentin Rhoades of Rhoades, Siefert, & Erickson, PLLC, who is representing the plaintiffs. The page had raised $10,000 of its $30,000 goal by Friday afternoon.

The three schools listed in the lawsuit are Missoula County Public Schools, Target Range School District and Hellgate Elementary School.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance recommends that masks be used indoors in areas of high COVID-19 transmission, regardless of vaccination status. As of Friday, Missoula County was considered an area of high transmission by the CDC.

The suit questions a number of studies done by multiple institutions, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It notes the WHO reversed its recommendations on masks in June or July 2020, and that new guidance in favor of them said “a mask alone, even when it is used correctly, is insufficient to provide adequate protection or source control.”

The lawsuit also alleges another shortcoming: “Support for mask effectiveness is largely based on laboratory studies. The evidence even in that setting, however, is at best inconclusive.”

The plaintiffs also argue mask mandates were put in place without “compelling government interest” and infringe on their children’s right to “privacy, dignity, and free expression.”

The suit also alleges discrimination against children because they are subject to mask mandates, while the rest of the population is not. However, most health officials across the state have urged residents to mask up indoors, but because of recent legislation largely stripping local health boards of their ability to enforce public health mitigation efforts, they cannot implement mask mandates.

Referring to the political divide of the COVID-19 pandemic, the suit states that those who wear masks are signaling their “trust in, loyalty to, or submission to the honesty, wisdom, and power of government.” Further stating, “wearing a mask functions for others as a virtue signal and an outward demonstration of their own social and moral superiority over those who fail to comply.”

For some who choose not to wear a mask, the suit says it “is an external signal of mistrust in government and defiance to unsupportable demands of compliance for its own sake.”

Because of the politicization of masks, the lawsuit says the mask mandates in the three Missoula schools unconstitutionally infringe on the plaintiff and their children’s “freedom to express their political and moral points of view.”

Joining the parents as plaintiffs is Stand Up Montana, a nonprofit vocal about its resistance to mask mandates.

The group says on its website it plans on filing a lawsuit over Bozeman Public School’s recent decision to implement a mask mandate but does not stop there. The website indicates that it has plans to also file lawsuits in Billings and Livingston and solicits for plaintiffs in other counties.

“If you are in Gallatin, Yellowstone, or Park County and would like join these filings as an individual plaintiff, or as a member plaintiff of Stand Up Montana, please contact Quentin Rhoades of Rhoades, Siefert, and Erickson as quickly as possible as time is limited and we want to file quickly,” the site read.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .