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Temporary restraining order stops Dougco schools mask exemptions

Douglas County schools filed a civil suit against the newly formed Board of Health on Wednesday, Oct. 20.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Every student and faculty member in Douglas County schools will need to put masks back on Wednesday, with a few exceptions. 

A U.S. District Court judge in Denver issued a temporary restraining order halting the Douglas County Board of Health's school mask exemption.

The decision was made Tuesday afternoon after the two sides laid out their arguments Monday and Tuesday.

On 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 school district said 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.

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

Nine students, whose only identifiers are initials, are listed as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit. According to court documents, the students have disabilities such as cystic fibrosis, autism, epilepsy, and Type 1 diabetes. 

The district and students argued the Board of Health's public health order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The federal judge on Tuesday agreed.

"I find the risk of irreparable harm to Plaintiffs is significant and they have sufficiently demonstrated that the Public Health Order denies Student Plaintiffs reasonable accommodations in the form of science-backed masking and quarantine requirements," U.S. District Judge John Kane said.

All parents and students will be required to put masks back on starting Wednesday. The Douglas County School District will accept medical exemptions from those who have a note provided by a Colorado licensed medical provider. 

"No parent should be forced to choose between sending their child to school and risking their child’s health, and no family should fear that their child may face threatening illness just to access the right to a great education," Superintendent Corey Wise said.

Douglas County's Board of Health said they "respectfully disagree" with the judge's ruling, and they will continue to fight to keep their order on masks. 

"We remain confident that when we have more time to make a full case, we will be able to demonstrate that the Douglas County Board of Health struck the proper balance of public health protection and parental involvement in health care decisions for their children," the board said in a statement Tuesday. "Our Order allowed the school district to continue its mask mandate even though the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lifted its statewide mask mandate for students in July. We would continue to encourage the Douglas County Board of Education to make partners of all parents in decisions that fundamentally impact their children.” 

According to court documents, 4,500 parents submitted written declarations within the first week after the public health order was issued to get their child out of wearing a mask in school. More than 500 staff members also exempted themselves from wearing a mask. 

This temporary restraining order lasts until 3 p.m. on Nov. 8. The court will hold another hearing on this issue that morning.

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