Multiple Wyoming School Districts, Harrist Removed From Mask Mandate Lawsuit

in News/Coronavirus

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A number of parties, including the state’s public health officer, have been removed from a lawsuit filed over face mask requirements earlier this year at place at some of the state’s schools.

Albany County School District 1, Sheridan County School District 2, Laramie County School District 1, Uinta County School District 6, Sweetwater County School District 2, Goshen County School District 1, the Sheridan Police Department, Wyoming state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist and Wyoming Department of Health interim director Stefan Johansson have all been removed from the lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal.

ACSD1 was removed from the lawsuit on Jan. 10, while the other defendants were removed in late December.

In an opinion filed in the December ruling, Freudenthal called the complaint filed on behalf of former Laramie High School student Grace Smith and others a “confused jumble of factual assertions…extensive citations to articles and other materials of nonparties…and legal arguments.”

“Plaintiffs repeat many legal arguments verbatim several times,” the opinion read. “In short, the amended complaint is so overly long, confused, repetitive, argumentative and generic in its allegations.”

The court applied this same reasoning to the order taking ACSD1 off of the lawsuit.

The decision leaves Gov. Mark Gordon and county health officers in five counties as defendants on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in November on behalf of Smith and 10 other plaintiffs.

Smith is a former Laramie High School student who was arrested on a charge of trespass for refusing to wear a face mask inside the high school. The lawsuit filed against the state and several school districts asked the court to find the mask mandates in place in several school districts unconstitutional.

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.

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.

Last month, as the school districts were seeking dismissal from the lawsuit, one organization actually filed a motion to join as defendants.

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 Healthy Communities said it wanted a say in the lawsuit because 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.

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