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Mask Mandate Lawsuit Revised, Smiths No Longer Plaintiffs

in News/Coronavirus
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grace Smith and her father Andy, the teenager and her father at the center of a mask mandate controversy in Laramie, have been removed as plaintiffs from a lawsuit against the state and several school districts over mask mandates.

The lawsuit was amended this week, after a December filing by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy 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.”

It was not clear why the Smiths were no longer listed on the lawsuit, but since it was first filed, plaintiffs and defendants have both been removed.

Albany County School District No. 1, Sheridan County School District No. 2, Laramie County School District No. 1, Uinta County School District No. 6, Sweetwater County School District No. 2, Goshen County School District No. 1, the Sheridan Police Department, Wyoming Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist and Wyoming Department of Health interim Director Stefan Johansson have all been removed from the lawsuit within the last month.

“Plaintiffs repeat many legal arguments verbatim several times,” said Freudenthal’s order dismissing several of the parties from the lawsuit. “In short, the amended complaint is … overly long, confused, repetitive, argumentative and generic in its allegations.”

The initial lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 2 alleged 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 asked the court to find there was never an imminent threat to Wyoming’s residents from coronavirus, that Gov. Mark Gordon’s initial emergency declaration was unconstitutional, that school districts have no authority to impose such mandates and asks 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 organization’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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UW Survey: Mask Use Was On Rise Before Gordon’s Mandate

in News/Coronavirus/University of Wyoming
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Even before Gov. Mark Gordon enacted a statewide mask mandate this week, mask usage among Wyoming residents was already on the rise, according to a University of Wyoming Survey.

This was just one of the findings from the latest survey conducted by the Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center.

The survey was conducted Monday, with a majority of data collected before the announcement of the mask mandate Monday afternoon.

Just over three-quarters (76%) of surveyed Wyomingites said they wear masks always or often when visiting indoor public places, an increase from 69% in early November and 61% in early October.

Only 6% of Wyoming residents now report that they never wear masks when visiting indoor public places, while 9% say they rarely wear masks in this situation.

“At the time of the survey, roughly half of the counties in Wyoming had recently enacted face mask mandates,” said Brian Harnisch, senior research scientist in charge of the project at WYSAC. “Self-reported mask use in those counties, those that say they always wear a mask in indoor public places, was roughly 20 percentage points higher than those without a mandate.”

Support for an ordinance that requires those in their communities to wear masks when visiting indoor public places was at 63% when the survey was conducted Monday, similar to the 62% support measured in November.

The survey is the 11th of multiple surveys WYSAC is conducting to measure public opinion on a number of topics related to the coronavirus.

A total of 519 Wyoming residents participated in the survey representing all Wyoming counties, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

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