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Dougco schools suing to block new public health order

The federal lawsuit asks the court to block enforcement of the Douglas County Board of Health's recent public health order regarding masks.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — The Douglas County School District (DCSD) filed a lawsuit against the recently formed Douglas County Board of Health over an order related to masking in schools.

On Friday, Oct. 8, the health board approved a public health order that allowed parents or guardians to give their children exemptions from mask mandates by writing and signing a request "due to the negative impact of that individual's physical and/or mental health." 

>The video above is from Oct. 11: First day in DougCo classrooms after commissioners lift mask mandate

In the school district's suit, they are asking the courts to block enforcement of the public health order saying the order violates the federal civil rights of students with disabilities. The school district also requests the court uphold the district's previous mask mandate. DCSD said their mandate fell in line with guidance from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Tri-County Health Department (TCHD).

The public health order ignores science and guidance regarding COVID-19 mitigation and puts the health and learning of vulnerable students – those with chronic conditions, respiratory issues, and other serious health challenges – in jeopardy, the school district said.

RELATED: Douglas County students can now attend school without masks

“No parent should be forced to choose between sending their children to school and risking their health, and no family should have to choose between access to learning and putting their child’s life in jeopardy,” said Douglas County School District Board President David Ray. 

“Students with certain disabilities or medical conditions are at higher risk for suffering from severe, life-threatening illness, and it is our obligation as a school district to ensure that every student has an inclusive, accommodating public education – a responsibility that the District takes very seriously. The message is simple: in these very complex times, our most vulnerable children cannot be left behind. Everyone wants a return to normal, but a return to normalcy cannot come at the expense of those with chronic and severe health issues. That’s why this legal step is being taken.”  

Eighteen students, whose only identifiers are initials, are listed as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit. In a news release announcing the lawsuit, the school district gave examples of some of the co-plaintiffs' disabilities that put them at high-risk if they contract COVID-19. 

Doug Benevento, the president of the Douglas County Board of Health, told 9NEWS they are reviewing the lawsuit. Benevento said the board remains confident their order strikes the proper balance for mask mandates in schools.

"We are confident that our order strikes the appropriate balance with respect to mask mandates in our schools. Our order allows for masking but provides exemptions for parents with children that would be negatively impacted from a health or psychological standpoint from a blanket mask requirement," the statement said. "The pending lawsuit against the school district by an asthmatic student claiming they have violated the [Americans with Disabilities Act] demonstrates that a blanket mask mandate does not strike that balance. Our order is also more proactive than any requirement the State of Colorado currently has in place."

RELATED: Adams County to withdraw from Tri-County Health Department

RELATED: Douglas County health board approves public health order giving power to parents to exempt their kids from wearing masks

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