A federal lawsuit filed against the state, school districts and others on behalf of a group of Wyoming students and their parents is asking that all mask requirements in place in some schools across the state be ruled unconstitutional and declared void.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 2 charges that rules adopted by some school districts requiring students to wear masks while in class, observe social distancing and quarantine when exposed to coronavirus have been improperly adopted.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 plaintiffs, including the Laramie High School student who was arrested on a charge of trespass recently for refusing to wear a facemask inside the high school. In addition to Grace Smith and her father, the lawsuit names as plaintiffs the parents of other students from schools across the state.
The 128-page lawsuit alleges Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Department of Health, state Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, six school districts, county health officers in five counties imposed various coronavirus-related restrictions and requirements even though they lacked the authority to do so. The school districts are in Sheridan, Albany, Laramie, Goshen, Sweetwater and Uinta counties.
“Each and every one of these various (executive orders), health orders and policies were, and continue to be issued arbitrarily without lawful authority which resulted in confusing and chaotic outcomes such as the closing of businesses, limited government service, limited business services, the closing of schools and day care facilities, and the mandatory wearing of face coverings that serve no medical purpose as to the declared emergency as a few examples,” the lawsuit said. “These various arbitrary decisions have resulted in many and repeated violations of the petitioners’ rights and liberties.”
The lawsuit traces the origins of school mask orders to Gordon’s decision in March 2020 to declare a state of emergency because of coronavirus, which gave the state the authority under state law to order the closure of some businesses, require the use of face masks in public settings and put in place other health-related measures.
But the lawsuit filed by Buffalo attorney Nick Beduhn said the coronavirus outbreak did not reach the level of severity required by state law to allow the declaration of an emergency.
“The petitioners believe, and therefore contend, that (state law) sets for certain criteria that MUST be met to invoke the authority of emergency powers,” it said. “The petitioners further contend that not a single one of the criteria set forth (in state law) existed within Wyoming on March 13, 2020; nor has ever existed to present.
“First and foremost, decisions must be made pursuant to the statutory criteria based on actual creditable factual data/documentation as to what the condition/situation is in Wyoming — not on outlandish computer models; or what the (World Health Organization) does or says; or what a U.S. president does or says; or what other states are doing,” it continued. “It must be based upon creditable documentable facts as to what the condition/situation is in Wyoming.”
The lawsuit also questioned the tests used to show that coronavirus remains a problem in the state, saying those results have been used to “maintain the illusion of a severe health crisis.”
Although all of the statewide health orders have been allowed to expire, the original emergency declaration remains in place, said Michael Pearlman, a spokesman for Gordon, so the state can access resources and “waive certain rules/regulations.” However, he added Gordon its reviewing the order to determine if it is still necessary.
In addition, school districts have been allowed to adopt their own mask, social distancing and quarantine rules, the lawsuit said even though they lack the constitutional authority to do so, the lawsuit said.
It added some school districts have maintained the mask orders in spite of problems some students have had using them. The lawsuit detailed the stories of a number of students — the children of those identified as petitioners — who it said have suffered adverse effects from the masks, including anxiety attacks, breathing problems and rashes.
It alleged schools have declined to grant exemptions to mask requirements sought by parents and added the children who have declined to wear masks have been bullied by classmates and intimidated by teachers.
The lawsuit asks the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents, that Gordon’s initial emergency declaration was unconstitutional, that school districts have no authority to impose such mandates and that all such orders should be lifted immediately.