The judge rejected the family’s request to visit the preschool without a mask on a 3-year-old boy with a speech delay.
Judge Jeffrey Rabin ruled that the child was not entitled to the emergency assistance requested by his mother Catherine Hart.
Hart’s lawsuit against the school district of Medford Lakes asked to allow her son to immediately go to preschool without a mask requirement for the entire school day on the grounds that he has not attended preschool since 18 January.
The school claimed that Hart decided not to allow her son out of preschool. Hart admitted this, saying she did not send him to school because her nonverbal child will not be able to cope with the frustration and anxiety of having to wear a mask in a new environment where he is already at a disadvantage due to his learning difficulties.
In his ruling, the judge agreed with the school that the break in child care was caused by Hart’s decision to leave him at home until the issue with the masks was resolved, and it was not the school’s fault for rejecting her request for emergency care.
Hart also failed to prove what “irreparable damage” her son would suffer if he attended a preschool with a mask and in accordance with the mask’s mandate, the judge wrote.
Governor Phil Murphy recently announced that the mandate for school masks would be revoked on March 7th. Retaining a mandate or making camouflage voluntary will remain in the election of individual school districts.
Hart did not send her son to preschool after the administration refused her request to amend his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a state-approved program designed for children with mental and physical disabilities, with a mask-exempt mandate.
The law, which requires wearing masks at school during an emergency with COVID-19, makes an exception for children whose IEPs claim they cannot wear masks. The school refused to issue this exception. Hart sued for emergency assistance, asking to immediately allow her child to attend school without masks, which would require the school to make changes to the curriculum.
The school mask mandate, issued by Governor Phil Murphy in an order issued in March 2020 for the COVID-19 Health Emergency, requires everyone who is on the premises of public and private K-12 schools in the state to wear masks to reduce the spread of the virus. .
In an oral argument in court during a virtual hearing held at Zoom, Hart, who introduced herself, said her son suffered from two speech-related learning disabilities and that he would be injured if adults repeatedly put a face mask on him.
“He doesn’t understand most of what he’s being told, and he doesn’t have the ability to verbalize,” Hart said.
The ruling did not set out a position on what could be grounds for dismissal. Instead, it was noted that Hart’s son was suffering from learning disabilities rather than a medical condition that could have prevented him from wearing the mask.
The decision was made at a time when lawsuits challenging mask mandates are unexplored territory even for judges and courts.
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“These are cases of first impressions in the judiciary of New Jersey, and neither side has proposed any case law that would set out legal advice on mask mandates,” the judge wrote. He described the problems with the mandates on the masks as “new and unique”, but as Hart filed the lawsuit, the burden of issuing previous court decisions lay on her and she was unable to give any.
This highly politicized debate around mask mandates also seems to be new territory for advocacy groups and organizations. Private counselors advising families of children with mental and physical disabilities on IEP issues, and some of the state’s leading parent advocacy and education groups were reluctant to take a position on the lawsuit. The record reached the SPAN Parents’ Advocacy Network and the Legal Center for Education. Disability Rights NJ did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.
The rabbi wrote in his ruling that the harm that wearing a mask can do to one child does not outweigh the public health benefits of wearing masks at school. “Balancing the saving of students’ lives throughout the school system with the unproven claims of one student about the harm done, ”the balance is clearly leaning in favor of the school district, he writes.
The key question is whether the Charter’s request meets emergency standards. For all these reasons, this was not the case, the ruling said.
The school’s lawyer also claimed that she offered Hart’s son speech therapy classes without a mask and that he attended one therapeutic session on 11 February. The school district did not respond to a request for comment.
“It was what I expected, because these courts are always on the side of the county, no matter how much evidence, data or just common sense you provide,” Hart said. “I don’t see it as a complete loss, as everything I’ve said and shared now is part of the record.”
The family is looking for other options for the placement of the child.
“The district’s actions have undermined our confidence in placing him there because they clearly don’t care about his interests or his needs,” Hart said.
Mary Ann Corut covers education for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about New Jersey schools and how it affects your children, sign up or activate your digital account today.