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The parent of a student at a central Maine middle school is suing the town, school board and district, and superintendent, arguing that the school mask policy violates his right to make decisions affecting his child’s health.
Scott Fortuna, whose 12-year-old daughter attends Winslow Junior High School, filed a complaint Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The complaint asks the court to prohibit the school district from enforcing its mask policy and compensate him an unspecified amount for damages.
“Forcing young children to wear masks for eight hours a day while attending school distracts children from learning, increases levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, creates vectors for pathogens and virtually eliminates non-verbal communication, harming phonetic development and damaging human connection,” the suit says. “Put simply, it is plaintiff’s right to decide whether detrimental effects of forcing his daughter to wear a mask outweigh the comparatively slight risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19.”
Superintendent Peter Thiboutot and Winslow School Board Chair Joel Selwood could not be reached by phone late Friday and did not respond to emails.
According to the lawsuit, the school board implemented a universal indoor masking policy for all students on Aug. 16 following a recommendation from the superintendent. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also recommending everyone in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors.
The lawsuit accuses the superintendent of “aggrandizing” the risk to children of COVID-19 and says other health and safety protocols such as distancing, hand washing, proper ventilation and vaccination are more effective at preventing the spread of the virus. It also raises concerns about reduced oxygen intake and increased carbon dioxide intake, though the U.S. CDC has found mask wearing to be safe and not associated with clinically significant impacts on respiration or gas exchange.
Fortuna is being represented by Augusta attorney Stephen Smith and Camden attorney Joseph Guzzardo. The suit says that as a parent, Fortuna has a fundamental right to make decisions about the medical care of his child, and that by imposing a mask mandate the defendants are infringing on that right.
“Facing the continued COVID-19 outbreak, Winslow School Committee has reflexively acted to take what action IT deems necessary in ITS opinion to provide medical care for its students,” the lawsuit says. “However, as has been only too common since the Pandemic first began last March, it is clear that the Town of Winslow and the Winslow School Committee acted without regard for the Plaintiff’s fundamental right in the care, upbringing and education of his daughter, including the right to make medical care decisions for his child.”
Mask policies have become a hot political topic in schools around the country this summer as districts large and small have weighed how to return safely amid the rise of the more transmissible delta variant.
Lawsuits regarding such policies have also been filed in other states, including Florida, where a judge Friday rejected a state order banning local districts from implementing mask mandates and said districts have the right to set their own policies as long as they are reasonable, narrowly tailored and address a compelling state interest.
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