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A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order that will invalidate the process established by the Warren County School District to allow parents to exempt their children from state mask requirements. The action stems from a lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday by nine parents. Photo by Josh Cotton

WARREN, Pa .– A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order against the Warren County School District that is halting proceedings by the district that effectively made masks optional at school.

“As of tomorrow, Wednesday October 6, mask exceptions will not be allowed as a way of not wearing a mask.” according to a statement posted on the district’s website.

“Only students benefiting from exemptions and accommodation through the 504 and IDEA processes will be accepted. “

A lawsuit was filed Monday against the Warren County School District over its decision to provide parents with a way to refuse their child to wear masks. The problem is the district’s Sept. 13 decision to allow parents to sign a waiver to exempt their children from state mask requirements without supporting medical documentation.

An injunction lawsuit was filed Monday in Western Pennsylvania U.S. District Court in Erie. The plaintiffs are identified as nine minors “by and by their parent”, all of which are identified by initials only.

The defendants are the Warren County School District and each of the nine members of the school board.

U.S. District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter granted a temporary restraining order in the case on Tuesday afternoon.

“(The) Court finds that there is good cause for the issuance of a temporary restraining order because the plaintiffs are likely to prevail over the merits of their due process request under the Fifth and the fourteenth amendment ”, Baxter said in his order.

“The facts show that applicants will suffer immediate and irreparable harm if a temporary restraining order is not granted”, Baxter continued. She criticized the action of the district which “Occurred without notice, without sufficient hearing, of one of the standard procedures for changing school district policy.” “

She concluded that a “A temporary restraining order will serve the public interest and the health, safety and well-being of students in schools in the school district.”

Baxter said in the order that the “The effect of this order maintains the status quo of August 31, 2021, the order of the Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health that required universal masking for all students in Commonwealth schools” and will remain in effect until further legal action.

“This vote of September 13, 2021 was based on ignorance due to a lack of investigation into the facts,” suggests a brief in support of the complaint. “The board held a rushed hearing that only provided the public with 24 hours’ notice and provided no notice that a political vote was taking place. “

The lawsuit was filed by Kenneth Behrend, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer, and alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act, the American Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Superintendent Amy Stewart declined to comment on the case file and Arthur Stewart, who brought the September 13 motion, was referred to Board Chair Donna Zariczny.

“The district is aware of the trial and we have no comment,” Zariczny said.

The complaint alleges information from the CDC that the “The risk of exposure and infection to COVID-19 is increased by not wearing masks” and that the purpose of masking is to keep schools open “For as many students as possible.

Although details of the complainants were not included in the documentation filed on Monday, the complaint indicates that the complainants are “Children with health problems and children under 12 who cannot be protected from COVID-19 with a vaccine. “

They point to a perceived hypocrisy in the council’s action – namely that it was taken in a virtual meeting.

The complaint indicates that the board is “Provide more protection against COVID-19 infection than they provide to schoolchildren” in what they have “Took what he describes as the ‘best’ action to prevent attendees from wearing masks at school board meetings by holding virtual meetings to reduce the risk of exposure and infection from COVID-19 to school board members. “

Their claim is that district policy “Violates substantive and procedural constitutional procedures and will cause irreparable harm” complainants, WCSD staff, students, visitors and the community.

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