Wyoming Student Arrested For Not Wearing Mask Sues, Says Free Speech Violated

Grace Smith, the Laramie High School student who was arrested in 2021 for refusing to wear a mask at school, is suing the Albany County School District, claiming her First Amendment right, and others, were violated.

Clair McFarland

August 10, 20238 min read

Grace Smith and LHS 8 9 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The “willfully defiant” Grace Smith of Laramie and her family are suing the Albany County School District No. 1 Board, superintendent and high school principal, on claims the district enforced a mask mandate without legal authority and compelled mask-wearing as a statement of obedience.  

Laramie High School suspended Smith from school three times in fall 2021 for refusing to wear a mask, then had her arrested and trespassed from the school. The Laramie Police Department booked her into jail for trespassing.  

Smith had also organized a walkout and peaceful protests over the district’s mask mandate.  

Smith sued the school board in federal court two years ago, but the judge dismissed that case when Smith’s attorney missed a filing deadline.  

Rights Violated

Now with two new attorneys and a lawsuit filed in Albany County District Court, Smith is claiming the school district violated her First Amendment right to free speech, retaliated against her for exercising that right, violated her due process rights, violated her parents’ autonomy right over her health care decisions and unlawfully expanded its own authority.  

Smith, her father Andy Smith and mother Erin Smith filed the complaint Tuesday via their attorneys Roxie Hensley Beth Chambers.  

The lawsuit names eight defendants in both their official and individual capacities: 

  • Dr. Jubal Yennie, district superintendent, who has since left the district.
  • Jeff Lewis, Laramie High School principal at the time and now the district’s director of Human Services.
  • Kim Sorenson, board trustee. 
  • Lawrence Parea, former board trustee.
  • Janice Marshall, who was the board chair at the time and is now the board’s clerk.
  • Nate Martin, board trustee.
  • Emily Siegel-Stanton, board trustee.
  • Beth Bear, board trustee.

Albany County School District declined to comment except to say it does not comment on ongoing litigation.  

Compelled Speech 

The school board already had an indoor mask mandate in place for kindergarten through eighth grade when its members met Sept. 1, 2021, to consider expanding the mandate to high school, says Smith’s complaint.  

Yennie at that meeting said he must implement health rules for the district since those in authority in state government “refused to do their job,” the document alleges.  

Gov. Mark Gordon had lifted Wyoming’s mask mandate six months earlier in March 2021.  

Jason Tangeman, a board trustee at the time, said the board didn’t have legal authority to issue public health mandates, a task reserved to the state and county health officers.  

Smith’s family is not suing Tangeman in this action.  

The board met again Sept. 8, 2021, and voted to approve the COVID-19 mask mandate for K-12.  

Smith’s complaint theorizes that the board lacked authority to do this, which would downgrade the vote from a legally protected public health action to a gesture of compelling government speech.  

Junior Year 

Smith had just entered her junior year at Laramie High School at that point. The complaint characterizes her as a model student making straight As in advanced placement classes, the lead role in the school play and a member of the Laramie High School dance team.  

On Sept. 9, 2021, the complaint says, Chairman Marshall wrote a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon asking him to validate the board’s decision to promulgate its pandemic rules.  

Laramie High School had already started kicking students out of school for not wearing masks, the complaint alleges.  

Smith and about 20 students “were forced to leave LHS for consciously objecting to the new compelled speech,” the complaint says.

Smith stood out front of Laramie High School with two signs, one which said “no more masks” and another that said “join our peaceful protest.”  

The next day, Sept. 10, was a national walk-out day to protest mask mandates, and Smith organized the walkout for Laramie High School. About 80 students and 30 parents were involved.  

Ten minutes before the walkout an LHS official warned everyone over the school’s intercom that participants in the walkout would be suspended from fall sports, the complaint says.  

Meanwhile, Governor Gordon responded to Marshall’s “plea” by saying he’d asked the Wyoming Attorney General to issue an opinion on whether the board had the authority to promulgate public health orders, according to the complaint.  

“Upon information and belief, the Wyoming Attorney General’s office never issued such an opinion,” it says.

Many Male Figures  

Smith’s father, grandfather and uncle met with Yennie on Sept. 15, 2021, to discuss the mask mandate. They challenged the board’s legal grounds.  

Yennie allegedly cited Wyoming statute 21-3-110, which grants schools authority to make rules consistent with state law.  

Smith asked Yennie to show “where that statute granted public health authority to the board,” says the lawsuit. 

“He balked, stating ‘there is not an exact spot,’” was Yennie’s response, the complaint claims. Yennie then allegedly said the disciplinary measures would match those for other broken rules.  

He’d see what the board wanted “to do about the adamant refusals” to wear a mask, said Yennie, adding that he “shared” the content of the Smiths’ meeting with him to the board chair, and “it was not good.”  

A Warning 

Yennie on Sept. 23, 2021, issued a memorandum to district principals directing them to “remind” parents the district was complying with the law, says the complaint.  

One week later, the school suspended Smith for “open defiance” of the policy.  

She returned to school Oct. 5, 2021, after her suspension was over.  

Principal Lewis issued another two-day suspension for “continu(ing) to demonstrate open defiance of the (board’s) authority.”  

Smith refused to leave school property.  

Now The Police 

Laramie Police Department Oficer Jason Bellman issued a $500 citation to Smith for trespassing and said her court date was Nov. 15, 2021.  

If she would not appear or settle the case, the court would issue a warrant for her arrest, the officer warned.  

She returned to school Oct. 7, 2021, and the school issued her a third two-day suspension for flouting the mask policy.  

This time she told Bellman she had a right to remain at school.  

Bellman issued another $500 citation for trespassing and asked her to wait in the main office or leave school property, the complaint says.  

Laramie High School went into lockdown mode — an exercise usually reserved for safety concerns like weapons threats.  

Bellman handcuffed and arrested Smith, drove her to the police department and agents booked her for trespassing. Then they released her to her father, the complaint says.  

A school district spokesman said the lockdown was “to prevent further interruptions to academic learning.”  

Later in her complaint Smith alleges that the school itself was the interruption. 

Smith formally withdrew from Laramie High School on Oct. 13, 2021.  

Shooting It Up 

An anonymous Laramie High School student on Oct. 7, 2021, posted to Snapchat that he or she planned to shoot up the school the next day, the complaint alleges.  

The school did not go into lockdown for that, it adds.  

The Ask 

Smith is asking for monetary damages to be determined by the court, plus interest, and attorney’s fees and costs.  

She is asserting that the district leaders violated her First Amendment rights by compelling her to wear a sign of compliance. This, she reasons, is because the board didn’t have the authority to make its own public health orders and the mask mandate therefore wasn’t a valid health mandate.  

She is also claiming the school district retaliated against her for expressing protected free speech, and violated her due process rights against unlawful encroachments of her freedoms.  

Smith’s parents are accusing district leaders of violating their due process right to dictate their own child’s health care decisions.  

The complaint also alleges that the board exceed its own authority.  

Lastly, the Smiths are asking the Albany County District Court to declare Wyoming statute 35-1-310 unconstitutional for not having “procedural safeguards” around it to limit arbitrary or capricious government actions. 

The statute lets county commissions and city councils issue health orders subsequent to their own health officers’ health orders.   

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

Share this article



Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter