In Short

Federal judge dismisses school masks challenge in The Dalles

By: - January 18, 2022 2:22 pm

Multnomah County’s health officer said educators and school children should wear makes to protect their well-being. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Four parents who had sought a court order to end the enforcement of mask mandates in the North Wasco County School District have been denied by a federal judge.

The parents – Jennifer Rae Gunter, Robert Jay Schwartz, Holly Lynn Gove and Chelsea Elizabeth Perritt – sued the district, naming the superintendent and school board members, in November in U.S. District Court, claiming that by requiring students wear masks to help stop the spread of the Covid, the district was violating the parents’ due-process rights under the state and federal constitutions.

The district serves about 3,000 students and about 150 teachers in The Dalles.

The parents first raised their concerns at an August school board meeting, according to the Oregon School Boards Association. They said masks were harming students by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide they’d breathe and were not, in fact, effective in preventing the spread of Covid.

Masks are effective at minimizing the spread of Covid-19, along with social distancing and vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the Oregon Health Authority.

The parents had requested the North Wasco County School Board hire a specialist to test classroom air quality, which the board declined to do, according to the School Boards Association.

In their filing, the parents wrote that masks encouraged bullying and isolation for improper wear, and that having teachers enforce the wearing of masks was akin to the practice of medicine without a license. They went on to write that because schools had federal funding tied up in their ability to demonstrate preparedness for the return to school, mandating students wear masks in order to release the funding was a form of “servitude for money” or “slavery.”

The parents were not represented by any lawyer. 

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon in Portland dismissed the case, ruling that the North Wasco County School Board and superintendent did not violate any constitutional rules in enforcing emergency orders to protect public health.

Simon wrote that the parents’ argument was “unpersuasive” adding that the idea that masking was akin to slavery or servitude, “reflects a serious misunderstanding of what constitutes slavery.” 

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.