ST. JOHN — Five parents are suing the Lake Central School Corporation over its mask policy.
Justin and Adriana Skains, Theresa Ayi, and Timothy and Tricia Crowley filed a lawsuit in Lake Superior Court last week asking a judge to intervene and impose a mask-optional policy in Lake County's largest school district.
The parents who identify themselves as "The Lake Central Majority” named the school district, superintendent Larry Veracco and the school board members in the civil suit, which charges "violating the Indiana constitution, board bylaws, and for abuse of power with regard to COVID-19 mandates."
"In July 2021 Lake Central Superintendent, Larry Veracco, invited parents to participate in a survey on masking for the 2021/2022 school year," the parents said in a press release. "The survey response was statistically significant and indicated that an overwhelming majority of Lake Central parents (71%) wanted a mask-optional policy for their children. However, in violation of their own school board bylaws code, four of five board members refused to implement 'the desires of the citizens' and on August 6, whilst prohibiting public comment on the issue, voted against their citizens to mandate masks universally."
The parents said other Northwest Indiana school districts have mask-optional policies. The lawsuit contends that Americans have returned to normal life 20 months into the coronavirus pandemic except in K-12 schools.
"Resulting now is a lawsuit to reverse course and return responsibility where it belongs, with parents, as it relates to making medical decisions for their children, as well as ending LCSC’s irrational and arbitrary masking, contact tracing and quarantine policies which violate individual liberty," the parents said in a statement.
Veracco said the school district does not comment on pending litigation.
He said the school district's mandatory mask policy was intended to protect students and staff from the coronavirus pandemic by preventing the spread of the virus.
"We are following the most current guidance from the Indiana Department of Health who have been given the authority to implement mitigation efforts to slow the spread of communicable diseases by the Indiana General Assembly," he said.
Health authorities say COVID-19 has killed more than 5.2 million people worldwide, including around 800,000 in the United States. The highly transmissible disease has infected 262 million people around the globe, including more than 49 million in the United States.
The new omicron variant has raised concerns among health experts as not enough is known about it to tell if existing vaccines will be effective against it.
"This is a bad time for de-masking. Average daily new cases are rising fast and have more than doubled in the last 30 days while the test positivity rate has risen to the highest level since January," said Indiana University associate professor of economics Micah Pollak, who has extensively tracked public health data since the onset of the pandemic. "Cases are likely to continue to rise following gatherings and travel for Thanksgiving and the rest of the winter holidays. The omicron variant, which has the potential to be worse than delta, is also a cause for concern. We have already had more COVID cases among Indiana K-12 students so far this year than the total for the entire fall, winter and spring last year. While children aged 5-11 are now eligible for vaccination, only 10% have been vaccinated so far and almost none of those will be fully vaccinated until January. Given the worsening conditions, the holidays, and the new variant, the responsible thing would be to increase mitigations, not to lessen them."
Pollak said such lawsuits have been dismissed in other states, including Ohio and Texas.
"Yes, you have the freedom to make medical choices for your children, but that freedom does not extend to violate the freedom of other children in public schools to be protected from the spread of disease," he said. "While we can debate the degree to which masks reduce spread, there is no debate that masks, even cloth ones, do reduce spread. Requiring masks is consistent with the current county, state and national health guidelines. The lawsuit is primarily a political stunt, and I expect it will be a waste of money for those who donated to crowdfund and a waste of the time for the courts."
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