California school mask mandate opponents mull options after judge dismisses lawsuit

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A judge in California has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mask mandate in K-12 schools, but opponents of the mandate are not admitting defeat just yet.

San Diego County Judge Cynthia A. Freeland dismissed the lawsuit filed by Reopen California Schools and Let Them Breathe, which was aimed at challenging the governor’s authority to issue a mask mandate for schools in California.

Freeland said in the order dismissing the lawsuit on Friday that the state “has a compelling interest in minimizing the impact of contagious diseases like COVID-19 on children as those diseases may impact a child’s ability to attend school.”

A child wears a face mask on the first day for New York City schools amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Brooklyn, New York, Sept. 13, 2021. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo)

Jonathan Zachreson, founder of Reopen California Schools, told Fox News that the mask requirement interferes with the students’ education.

“For younger kids, it has an impact on speech. You’re trying to learn English as a second language. People who are hard of hearing,” Zachreson said. “There’s a variety of things that impact children in different ways.”

California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly has previously said that masking is a simple way to offer in-person learning.

“Masking is a simple and effective intervention that does not interfere with offering full in-person instruction. At the outset of the new year, students should be able to walk into school without worrying about whether they will feel different or singled out for being vaccinated or unvaccinated – treating all kids the same will support a calm and supportive school environment,” Ghaly said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine booster shot from California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at Asian Health Services in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Currently, masking is required for students in K-12 schools in California and adults are required to wear a mask “when sharing indoor spaces with students,” according to the California Department of Public Health.

Freeland said the “courts should decline to second-guess public health officials’ actions in an ‘area[] fraught with medical and scientific uncertainties.’” 

The judge said in the order that there “simply is no language in the Guidance, however, that requires, directs, or otherwise authorizes schools to force students into an independent study program.”

In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, file photo, students, some wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)
(AP)

Sharon McKeeman, the founder of Let Them Breathe, said in a press release that while it is disappointed the lawsuit was dismissed, the judge did admit that schools are free to enforce the mask mandate as they please.

“While it’s disappointing school masking was not allowed to be put on trial, at least it appears schools are free to enforce the mask mandate anyway they see fit and are not required to remove kids from the classroom for not wearing a mask,” the press release said. “It seems that the state’s strategy was to dismiss the case without having to address that masking at school is not effective and is harmful to students.”

According to the California Department of Education, independent study is “an alternative to classroom instruction.”

Zachreson told Fox News the group is “exploring all legal options” and may file a separate lawsuit.

Fox News’ Brie Stimson contributed to this report.

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