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Anti-mask parents who sued School Board will not appeal

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of February 25, 2021)
Photo: Jennifer Pippin outside the Indian River County School Board.

Four parents who lost a court challenge against the mandatory facemask policy in Indian River County’s public schools have decided not to file an appeal after being told by their lawyer they have little chance of success.

But the parents will continue lobbying the School Board to make facemasks optional in public schools, said Jennifer Pippin, the lead plaintiff in the case.

The four parents have repeatedly questioned the strong scientific and political support for requiring facemasks in public, including a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on Feb. 12 calling for “the universal and correct use of masks” in schools.

Yet Pippin and three other parents who sued the School Board decided they would be unlikely to convince an appellate court to overturn the Feb. 9 order by state Circuit Judge Janet Croom dismissing their complaint with prejudice and upholding the facemask requirement.

Meanwhile, School Superintendent David Moore gave no indication last week he is ready to start phasing out the requirement that students and employees wear facemasks on campus.

Asked about the status of the phaseout plan, school district spokeswoman Cristen Maddux said officials are monitoring positive cases, consulting with medical and health officials and evaluating whether to update health and safety guidelines.

Maddux referred to Moore’s November 2020 report, which concluded: “Due to the COVID-19 positivity rate, gating criteria for phasing out face coverings should not be considered at the current time.”

When it happens, the facemask phaseout will start with Pre-K and kindergarten classes, the report says.

Judge Croom, who sits in the 19th Judicial Circuit in the Indian River County Courthouse, ruled the School Board had the unquestioned authority to require students to wear facemasks in school to reduce the spread of the virus.

The CDC’s new School Operational Strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic calls for “consistent and correct use of facemasks by all students, teachers and staff to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission through respiratory droplets.”

The National Academy of Sciences recently called for the widespread use of facemasks and reported: “Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high.”

Patrick Leduc of Tampa, who represented the four parents, advised the group against an appeal because “he doesn’t think the case will go any further, even if it was to go to a different judge or federal court,” Pippin said.

“We collectively decided we’re not going to appeal the lawsuit,” Pippin added. “We don’t want to drag it out. It could cause a problem if [the School Board] were going to change something for next year.”

Despite their defeat in court, Pippin said it was worth the $10,500 the four parents raised to pursue the lawsuit because it seemed the best way to oppose the mandatory facemask policy at the time.

“We’re still emailing and calling, hoping to make it optional, possibly for the last quarter,” Pippin said. “We’re just going to keep asking: What is the end game? What is it going to take to make masks optional?”