5 KISD parents file suit against the district over mask requirements

By R. Hans Miller | News Editor
Posted 4/5/21

Five Katy ISD parents have filed suit against Katy ISD regarding the district’s ongoing mask requirement, according to court documents. The lawsuit, which cites the historic case Brown vs. the …

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5 KISD parents file suit against the district over mask requirements

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Five Katy ISD parents have filed suit against Katy ISD regarding the district’s ongoing mask requirement, according to court documents. The lawsuit, which cites the historic case Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka which led to racial integration of schools, claims the utilization of face coverings in schools is detrimental to students and creates a situation similar to the separate but equal argument made in the Brown case in 1954.

“Almost (70) years later, it appears that defendant Katy ISD Superintendent Kenneth Gregorski has forgotten the lessons of Brown v. Board of Education, by implementing a policy that fails to make education available to all on equal terms,” the legal filing reads. “Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit not only to empower parents but to recapture their rights to make decisions they believe are in their children’s best interest.”

Katy ISD continues to offer its Katy Virtual Academy which allows parents who do not want their children on school campuses – either because they don’t want them possibly exposed to the novel coronavirus or because they don’t want them wearing masks – to participate in classes virtually. The lawsuit contends this setup makes the situation into a “separate but equal” situation.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the parents by attorney Jared R. Woodfill with co-counsel Michael Villasana last week seeks an injunction against the mask mandate currently in place for KISD students. The plaintiffs are also seeking relief of $100,000 or less, which plaintiffs have said is to be used to cover court and attorney costs. Plaintiffs in the case are Jenny Alexander, Doug Alexander, Heather Calhoun, Stephen Calhoun and Bonnie Anderson. All of the plaintiffs have children in KISD.

Anderson is currently a candidate for KISD’s Board of Trustees sixth seat.

“Our children, just as all children do, have a fundamental right to equal access to public education. This lawsuit is intended to reinstate our parental rights and ensure the rights of all parents to make health choices for their children,” Anderson said on her campaign’s Facebook page.

The lawsuit also cites possible harm to children forced to wear masks; however, local physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not agree with the lawsuit's claims regarding masks. 

Meanwhile, in a brief statement regarding the lawsuit, Katy ISD Manager of Media Relations Maria DiPetta said the district continues to follow Tex. Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive order Ga-34 and comply with the Texas Education Agency’s Public Health Planning Guidance which states, in part, “…every student, teacher or staff member shall wear a mask over the nose and mouth when inside a school building, school facility…or when in an outdoor space on school property used for school activities, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household…”

Abbott’s order says public schools may operate under guidelines established by the TEA, as may private schools and institutions of higher education. The TEA’s current guidelines require the use of masks or full-face shields to protect the eyes, nose and mouth for students, teachers and staff members. The requirement from the TEA does not require those under 10 to wear a mask except where the school system determines it is developmentally appropriate, people with medical conditions or disabilities that may prevent wearing a mask, when eating or drinking, when a person is social distancing or exercising outdoors, or anyone giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience.

The lawsuit claims that there are no confirmed instances of teachers being infected with COVID-19 by students; however, four KISD staff who spoke with the Katy Times on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press said they had seen multiple cases in the district that were likely linked to exposure to infected students. All four said they would be very concerned and may leave or participate in a protest of some sort if the district were to lift the mask mandate. Some teachers, they said, had already refused to return to campuses at all and had left the district earlier in the year.

“If the mask mandate is lifted, there are some (KISD staff) who are wanting to stage a sick-out,” one of the teachers said. “But, will that actually happen – who knows? But it’s very rare to find a teacher at Katy ISD that says, ‘Oh yeah, we don’t need to wear masks at all. I’m totally fine with kids coming maskless.’”

According to the Association of Texas Professional Educators, under Texas law teachers are not allowed to conduct an actual strike. Doing so may cost them their teaching certificates and their Teacher Retirement System benefits.

Regardless, the issue is now in the hands of the court system and a judge’s ruling.

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit statewide news outlet, Woodfill said the district’s policy is unlawful and is geared around a minority of people in the district – a fraction of those on campuses who are at higher risk because of health conditions.

“You don’t shut down and force 99.9% of the people to wear a mask all day long,” Woodfill said.

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