A teacher adjusts a mask on one of her students at Lafayette Elementary School in Clairemont on the first day back to school. Photo by Chris Stone

The Orange County Board of Education plans to sue Gov. Gavin Newsom over the state’s mandate that K-12 students must wear masks indoors for the upcoming school year.

The board’s vote this week follows a suit filed by parent groups in San Diego County that challenges the mask mandate in schools.

Let Them Breathe, located in Carlsbad, and Reopen California Schools filed a joint lawsuit against the state regarding the state’s facial covering, asymptomatic testing and close contact quarantine guidance for K-12 schools.

According to the local suit, Let Them Breathe officials believe “that masking students is unnecessary, ineffective, and harmful to their mental, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing.”

The Orange County board members want to target Newsom’s ongoing assertion of emergency rule-making powers due to the coronavirus pandemic, specifically the school mask mandate, issued last month.

“When necessary, the board will fight to protect the health, safety and welfare of our county’s kids at school. Unfortunately, with the governor’s most recent action to force Orange County’s children, even those as young as 5 and 6 years old, to endure an academic year covering their faces for hours on end, the time to fight has come again,” according to a statement posted on the board’s website.

Newsom, in an appearance in San Bernardino County, said the goal is “to keep our kids safe.”

The governor said he expects school districts across the state to follow all safety recommendations, which he said “are in line with the CDC and aligned with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which I’m more interested in their counsel and advice than, respectfully, those that are seeking to move in the direction of Florida and other states.”

Dr. Dan Cooper of UC Irvine’s Institute for Immunology, who has been active in the university’s COVID-19 pandemic research, disputed the board’s statement that children are not at risk from the coronavirus.

Cooper though has been a consistent vocal advocate of keeping children in schools. He led a research project that investigated how the Roman Catholic schools opened up classrooms and mitigated the spread of the virus. He also rejects any argument that face coverings are harmful to children.

“Show me one paper that identifies substantial harms of masking,” Cooper said. “I dare them to show me one single paper that says children were damaged because we asked them to wear a mask.”

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley told City News Service she doesn’t see much legal merit to the case.

“That is all political theater,” Foley said. “The courts themselves are requiring masks. So, you know, I don’t know how far they’re going to get on that one.”

Foley added that requiring face coverings for students “is the last restrictive means to protect the public’s health, especially the children.”

Foley noted that there are 11 children hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Orange County with COVID-19.

The board said it retained a legal firm to handle the case prob bono, so the challenge “will not incur legal fees to Orange County’s taxpayers.”

City News Service contributed to this report.

Show comments