Parents sue Wood County Schools over mask mandate

PARKERSBURG — The parents of three Parkersburg High School students filed suit this week to have Wood County Schools’ mask mandate declared illegal and unconstitutional.

Filed Tuesday in Wood County Circuit Court on behalf of John R. Davis and Felsie C. Pierce, the lawsuit claims the school district has no legal authority under which to require mask wearing and alleges that “this forced, prolonged masking has caused actual harm to (the plaintiffs’) children.”

“Wood County Schools’ actions of forcing children to cover their noses and mouths for prolonged periods of time, against their will, and without legitimate regard to physical and mental harm being caused thereby, is being perpetrated in violation of … state constitutional protections,” the suit said.

The school district issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying it had no comment on the matter because it involves pending litigation.

The lawsuit said the forcible masking has caused the plaintiffs’ children to suffer from medical conditions, including hypercapnia (buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood), cephalgia (a blanket term for headaches), enhanced allergies and candida and thrush, referring to fungal infections.

In August, students returned to school in Wood County without a mask requirement, though officials did strongly recommend masks be worn. As absences and quarantines due to COVID-19 increased, the Wood County Board of Education voted 3-2 on Aug. 31 to require masks to be worn by all students, staff and visitors while indoors or on a bus when the county is orange or red on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System map.

According to the lawsuit, the students’ parents sent a letter to board members, Superintendent Will Hosaflook and PHS Principal Kenny DeMoss saying they did not consent to the children being forced to wear masks. It cited “information prepared by America’s Frontline Doctors explaining that the forced masking of children in schools is ineffective and harmful to children.”

America’s Frontline Doctors describes itself online as a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization providing patients with “independent, evidence-based information to make the best decisions for their health care.” The Associated Press said the group has “consistently made false statements about COVID.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking for schools due to the circulation of the virus’ more contagious delta variant.

When the students were still required to wear a mask, the plaintiffs submitted a letter from Eric William Spencer saying one of the children was under his care and should be considered medically exempt from wearing a mask. The school initially allowed this, the suit said, but said in a Sept. 30 email that Spencer “is not a licensed health care/medical provider … (and) does not have the medical authority to exempt an individual from our health requirements for school attendance.”

According to a letter submitted as an exhibit with the complaint, Spencer is affiliated with the Body Electrician Virtual Clinic. The clinic’s website describes him as its “resident clinic naturopath,” certified in a variety of alternative therapies and techniques.

The lawsuit argues that local boards of education have no authority to enact mask mandates apart from boards of health, and those bodies are limited by state law to quarantine procedures, which have not been enacted. It notes that masks were mandated statewide last year by Gov. Jim Justice’s executive order, but it is no longer in effect and Justice has declined to issue another mandate.

The governor has repeatedly said he wants to leave the decision up to local authorities.

Represented by Union, W.Va., attorney John H. Bryan, the plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, as well as an expedited hearing and decision “due to ongoing harm occurring to plaintiff’s children due to prolonged forced masking.”

Overall, the suit asks the court to invalidate the mandate and issue an order preventing the district from requiring students to wear masks against the wishes of their parents or guardians. It asks for reasonable attorney fees and expenses and other relief as the court deems fit, but does not seek a specified amount of money.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.


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