Organization Asks To Join Mask Mandate Lawsuit As Albany County Schools Look For Dismissal

A Wyoming nonprofit organization has asked a U.S. District Court to let it join a lawsuit over mask requirements in place in some school districts across the state.

Ellen Fike

December 17, 20214 min read

Smiths and Bouchard

A Wyoming nonprofit organization has asked a U.S. District Court to let it join a lawsuit over mask requirements in place in some school districts across the state.

The motion to intervene filed by Families for Healthy Communities was filed just days before another school district, Albany County School District No. 1, joined several others in asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

At issue is a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of 11 plaintiffs, including Grace Smith, the Laramie High School student who was arrested on a charge of trespass recently for refusing to wear a face mask inside the high school. The lawsuit filed against the state and several school districts asks the court to find the mask mandates in place in several school districts unconstitutional.

Families for Healthy Communities, a Wyoming nonprofit membership organization, filed a motion to intervene and join the lawsuit on Dec. 9. In its motion, Families for Health Communities said it wanted a say in the lawsuit becuse it has an interest in protecting the health of its student members and their families from COVID through masking, which would be impaired if the lawsuit succeeds in eliminating mask requirements in schools.

“Families’ members support face mask requirements in school…more stringent than (Wyoming Health Department) guidelines, to protect their health and that of their fellow students, teachers, staff and of their families and community,” the motion read.

Families’ lawyers argued that the state and school districts involved in the lawsuit could not adequately represent the nonprofit’s interests, because “governments are prone to making shifts in policy.”

“It is no secret that (the state and school districts) are under significant pressure to eliminate their COVID-19 response policies,” the motion said.

Meanwhile, the Albany County district filed its motion asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit on Thursday.

“(The people filing the lawsuit) fail to allege any invasion of legally-protected interest that constitutes an injury-in-fact,” the motion said. “The vast majority of … allegations do not concern any actions done by ACSD respondents.”

The initial lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 2 alleges that rules adopted by some districts requiring students to wear masks while in class, observe social distancing and to quarantine when exposed to coronavirus have been improperly adopted.

In addition to 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 and 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.

The lawsuit asks the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents from coronavirus, 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.

Within the last month, Sheridan County School District No. 2, Laramie County School District No. 1 and the Wyoming Department of Health have all filed motions to be dismissed from the lawsuit.

The court has not yet made a decision on the motions.

Smith was arrested at Laramie High School in October for trespassing. She had been suspended due to her refusal to wear a mask, as the Albany County School District 1 has a mask mandate in place, and would not leave school grounds after being repeatedly told to do so.

She has since withdrawn from the high school to attend her junior year online, but has not ruled out returning to Laramie High for her senior year.

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Ellen Fike