MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — The school mask mandate debate continues to be a hot topic this year.
It's become so divisive that some parents have decided to sue their local school districts to force them to change their rules.
Last month, federal lawsuits were filed against four Northeast Ohio districts: Mayfield City School District, Medina City School District, Olmsted Falls City School District, and Cloverleaf Local School District.
According to court documents, they were all filed by parents on behalf of their children, each one objecting to the mask mandates put in place by the districts. They claim the mandates violate their children’s constitutional rights.
“There is no constitutional right involved,” said Sharona Hoffman, a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.
Hoffman said nothing can be ruled out before the case is litigated in court, but she doesn’t believe the plaintiffs have a strong case.
"There's always a chance because you never know what judge you're going to get and what the judge will decide if there are political agendas, etc. But I don't think the plaintiffs have a strong case because states and school boards and school districts have the power to institute orders and rules that are meant to promote public safety and public welfare," said Hoffman.
“Schools have all sorts of rules, uniform rules, health rules. And this is no different and this is really critical to the health of children who are not yet vaccinated,” said Hoffman.
Each lawsuit includes testimony from Stephen E. Petty, an industrial hygienist and owner of Engineering and Expert Services, Inc. based in Dublin, Ohio, and Pompano Beach, Florida.
“The field of industrial hygiene is a field associated with anticipation, recognition, evaluation, and control of things that can make you sick, uncomfortable, even kill you. And so our job is to figure those things out and then figure out ways to control them,” said Petty.
In court documents, Petty claims masks don’t protect people against the spread of COVID-19, and instead says those who are required to wear masks suffer “immediate and irreparable” injury, loss, and damage.
Petty cites a concept in the industrial hygiene industry called “hierarchy of controls” as the reason why he believes masks don’t protect people against COVID-19.
“It lists the way in which one goes about trying to control or deal with hazards, including something like COVID. And the top thing that works in this arena is called engineering controls, and that would be things like using more fresh air dilution and using destruction technologies, things that actually destroy the COVID. The least desirable is what they call PPE or personal protective equipment, and for breathing, that would be a respirator. The problem is masks don't even fit in that hierarchy because masks aren't respirators. You can't seal them,” said Petty.
"We know from respirator theory that it restricts your breathing. That's why you need a medical clearance to order a respirator. And when you restrict breathing, then it makes it harder for you to get oxygen out of your system. And if that happens, then you can have an impact on pulse rate, blood pressure, things like that," said Petty.
An overwhelming majority of doctors, medical, and public health officials disagree with the belief that masks do not protect people against the spread of COVID-19, and encourage people to wear them to protect themselves and others.
All of the cases are still pending, but last month, a judge denied a restraining order filed by the plaintiff in the Mayfield City Schools case that would have blocked mask mandates in school buildings. The judge said it would potentially cause substantial harm to students, teachers, and faculty through community spread of COVID-19.
News tried to reach out to the plaintiff, but couldn’t find any public record of her in Mayfield, and the address she listed on court documents is to the post office in downtown Cleveland.
As for a potential outcome to these cases, Hoffman thinks the districts will come out on top.
“School districts have been sued over a whole lot of things. They usually have legal departments, so I don't think they're going to be intimidated by these cases. These are pretty weak cases,” said Hoffman.
News 5 reached out to each of the parents who filed lawsuits on behalf of their children for comment and have not heard back yet.
Cloverleaf Local School District sent a statement:
"Since the matter is the subject of ongoing litigation, the Board is not going to comment further at this time."
Medina City School District also sent a statement:
Medina City School District’s top priority is to ensure the safe education of its students. That priority was the primary consideration when the District implemented its masking policy. Allegations to the contrary contained in the lawsuit are baseless. Medina City School District will be filing its response to the lawsuit in the coming days and is confident that the Court will find the lawsuit meritless.
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