A complaint was filed on Monday against the Lincoln County Board of Education on behalf of parents of students attending Lincoln County Schools. The complaint for injunctive relief, which was filed with the Superior Court of Lincoln County seeks an order and injunction directing the board of education to require students and staff to wear face masks to protect students from COVID-19. 

At their regular board meeting held on Sept. 14, the board voted, 4 to 3 to make masks optional effective Sept. 29. The complaint alleges that the board of education knowingly risks the health of its students and violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to a safe and sound basic education.

The 13 parent plaintiffs to the action are anonymous to protect their minor children. As detailed in the complaint, the parents are concerned about their children contracting COVID-19, being bullied for wearing masks or succumb to peer pressure and not wear their masks, have to struggle with remote learning should they contract COVID-19, or bring the virus home to infants or grandparents, or those unvaccinated due to underlying medical conditions in the home. Disability Rights North Carolina also joined the complaint as a plaintiff to protect access to public education for children with disabilities.

The statement of facts contained in the complaint cited Lincoln County’s high rate of transmission, increase of new reported cases, that the transmission can’t be fully controlled by vaccination, that the overwhelming majority of public-school boards in North Carolina have mandated masks, as well as published studies that indicate that mask mandates keep rates of pediatric COVID-19 down.

The complaint further states that the school board vote to make masks optional was not unanimous, the board abandoned mandatory masking despite hearing from Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, Lincoln County Public Health Director Davin Madden and knowing that a majority of the individuals who signed up to speak favored keeping masks mandatory at the meeting on Sept. 14. At the same meeting, they refused to hear from two doctors attending the meeting who had students in the school system and refused two other doctors the right to speak because they were not residents of Lincoln County. Further, in abandoning its mandatory masking requirement, the board violated its own policy for addressing communicable diseases, ignored the guidance of the NC Department of Health and Human Services and that since Sept. 14, the public health outlook has worsened, two school employees have died of COVID and Madden wrote the board asking them to reconsider their decision.

If a mask optional policy were to be allowed the continue, the complaint cites, COVID-19 rates would increase, the health of students would be at risk, no virtual learning option is offered, the children whose parents didn’t want to risk the health of their child and that of other members of the household would be denied access to their education, and mask bullying would occur.

The complaint asked for a temporary restraining order directing the board of education to maintain its mandatory mask policy until the next regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 12 as well as an award for attorneys’ fees and costs.

The complaint was signed by five attorneys including former Cleveland and Lincoln County District Court Judge Meredith Shuford, now a member of the firm of Teddy, Meekins & Talbert in Lincolnton.

“I felt it was important to represent those individuals who are shocked, disappointed, and anxious about the Board of Education’s decision to implement a mask optional policy at this point in time,” she said. “I believe the four board members who voted in favor of the change, failed to consider the medical and public health evidence and guidance that was available at the meeting at a time when we are experiencing a rapidly deteriorating public health situation in our community. As a member of this community and a parent of a child attending Lincoln County schools, I support utilizing all of the layers of protection that are available including masks. I’m concerned about the students’ ability to continue to attend school in person if masks are optional. I’m afraid this decision will lead to school closures as well as other negative consequences for the families of our students, and the community at large.”

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