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Opponents file suit to block Las Vegas-area school mask mandate

A child at a protest holds a sign reading "Unmask the Kids."
An anti-mask group protests at the Redondo Beach Unified School District building last month.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

A mask mandate for Las Vegas-area schools has spawned a federal lawsuit from attorneys seeking class-action status for claims that the constitutional rights of thousands of parents and children are being violated.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have been ripped away from law-abiding citizens and their children,” the attorneys said in the complaint filed Thursday against Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, state Atty. Gen. Aaron Ford and the Clark County School District.

It seeks an immediate court order to invalidate a directive the governor enacted last week that generally requires K-12 students and school employees in the Las Vegas and Reno areas to wear masks on buses and inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.

Plaintiffs Monica Branch-Noto and Tiffany Paulson are identified as the guardians of three students at Henderson schools. The children’s names are not provided in the 27-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.

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“It’s preposterous that these kids have to go to school hindered,” said attorney Sigal Chattah, a Republican candidate for Ford’s job who has also sued Sisolak, a Democrat, over vaccination plans and coronavirus-related restrictions imposed on churches.

“We’re trying to get the kids unmasked,” she said.

Nevada’s governor has signed a law making it the first state to vote in the 2024 presidential primary contests, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire.

A spokesman for Ford declined comment. Representatives for the governor and the school district did not immediately respond to emails.

Masks in schools have become a flashpoint in areas where students are returning to in-person classroom instruction after more than a year of school closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Schools opened Monday in and around Las Vegas, where more than 300,000 students and about 18,000 teachers make the Clark County district the fifth-largest in the nation.

The lawsuit in Nevada was filed the same day that parents and the Oklahoma State Medical Assn. filed a lawsuit asking a judge there to overturn a state law banning mask requirements in public schools.

In August, K-12 students will return to school. For many districts, summer school has provided a preview of classroom life with mask mandates.

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In Kentucky, Republican lawmakers and the attorney general are challenging a school mask mandate that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear issued Tuesday.

The Nevada complaint calls rules enacted in March 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19 “onerous, burdensome and unconstitutional” after 17 months, and claims they are inflicting “massive emotional distress on students and parents.”

It says that the governor’s order infringes on “the fundamental right of parents to make child-rearing decisions, including arbitrarily forcing children to wear masks in school.”

“Children have a one in a million risk of dying from COVID-19,” the lawsuit says, pointing to an online article by a Johns Hopkins University surgeon and professor who calls the case for vaccinating children “not compelling right now.”

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In northern Nevada, school officials reported Wednesday that about 80 people were exposed to the coronavirus after a parent knowingly sent a child to middle school two days after learning the student tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Washoe County School District said in a statement that the parent also tested positive and “refused to communicate” with the child’s school.

An unspecified number of students were sent home to quarantine. But the district said they would be expected to participate in home learning and keep up with schoolwork.

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Unvaccinated students sent home may return to school after five days if they test negative for the coronavirus and are free of symptoms, the district said. Fully vaccinated students could return to school if they are free of symptoms and show vaccination records to a school nurse.


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