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

in News/Coronavirus
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

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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Arrested Laramie Teen Doesn’t Regret Decision To Quit School

in News/Coronavirus
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Laramie teen who was arrested for refusing to comply with a facemask mandate at Laramie High School does not regret her decision last week to withdraw from the high school.

Grace Smith officially withdrew from Laramie High School following her arrest on Oct. 7 on a charge of trespassing stemming from her refusal to comply with the school’s mandate for the use of facemasks.

“I know that this fight is not only about me, so I’m confident in my decision,” Grace told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “I also do not regret any decision leading up to this one for the same reason.”

As a result of the incident, Grace recently received a one-year scholarship to an online school and she plans on attending the school, father Andy Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

Albany County School District No. 1, which includes Laramie High, adopted a requirement for the use of facemasks in September. The requirement was extended until mid-November by school board members during the same meeting that saw Grace announce her plans to withdraw from the school.

“I was unlawfully arrested from my own school,” Grace told the board. “You have bestowed an egregious amount of power upon yourselves. You have instilled a sense of false hope in each parent that has given you the privilege of educating their child.”

Despite the situation, Andy Smith said that Grace was not ruling out going back to Laramie High, possibly for her senior year of high school.

“The decision to leave was not an easy one as it meant giving up the things that she loved,” Andy Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “She is also alone now and already misses friends.”

Grace went into custody willingly and was polite with officers when arrested, videos taken and shared by her father show. The teen was also fined $1,000 for trespassing.

Grace told board members they were infringing on Albany County students’ constitutional rights by forcing them to wear masks in school.

She did note that she wasn’t arguing about whether or not masks were effective, but about the choice to wear one.

“High school is hard enough already. Why are we making it harder?” she said.

Andy Smith told Cowboy State Politics that initially when the mandate was implemented in September, the school district was going to allow students to obtain exemption forms, but Superintendent Jubal Yennie ultimately decided to allow exemptions under eight criteria, none of which Grace met.

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Teen Arrested At Laramie High Officially Withdraws From School

in News/Coronavirus/Education
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grace Smith, the Laramie High School student who was arrested following her refusal to wear a mask at school, officially withdrew from the school on Wednesday.

Grace spoke during the public comment portion of the Albany County School District 1 board meeting on Wednesday evening, chastising the board members for the situation she is now in and officially withdrawing as a student at the school.

“I was unlawfully arrested from my own school,” Grace told the board. “You have bestowed an egregious amount of power upon yourselves. You have instilled a sense of false hope in each parent that has given you the privilege of educating their child.”

Grace and her father Andy Smith did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday. It was not immediately clear what the teen planned to do to finish out her high school career.

Grace was arrested on Thursday at Laramie High School because she refused to leave after being suspended for not following the mandatory mask policy. The officer told her she was trespassing.

“I want to make it very clear to you that you do not own us as kids,” Grace told the board. “You have no right to tell us who we get to be and you have absolutely no right to make our health decisions for us.”

Grace went into custody willingly and was polite with officers when arrested, videos taken and shared by her father show. The teen has also received $1,000 in trespassing fines, which she noted to the board during her speech.

The school district implemented a mask mandate in early September after Albany County and Wyoming’s COVID cases continue to climb, as well as its hospitalizations. The board covered this topic at the Wednesday meeting, again extending the mandate until Nov. 12.

Grace told the board they were infringing on Albany County students’ constitutional rights by forcing them to wear masks in school.

She did note that she wasn’t arguing about whether or not masks were effective with the situation, but about the choice to wear one.

“High school is hard enough already. Why are we making it harder?” she said.

Andy Smith told Cowboy State Politics that initially when the mandate was implemented in September, the school district was going to allow exemption forms, but Superintendent Jubal Yennie ultimately revoked them and only allowed exemptions under eight criteria, none of which Grace met.

Grace also told the board that she has been bullied, discriminated against and threatened by other students due to her refusal to wear a mask.

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