The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 23, 2021 1:00 am

No ruling in hearing on NACS' mask policy

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

An Allen County judge didn't rule Wednesday on motions to dismiss the lawsuit filed by six Northwest Allen County Schools parents upset about coronavirus protocols, including mask mandates and quarantines.

Before he ended the 90-minute hearing, Judge David Avery asked the parents' attorney whether the issue was moot. The school board decided Nov. 8 not to require masks after winter break unless required by local, state or federal order.

The matter is still relevant, Kevin Mitchell said, noting there's a possibility the policy could change after classes resume in January. He referred to NACS' decision to reinstate a mask mandate weeks after beginning the school year with a mask-optional policy.

“The fall is the best example,” Mitchell said.

The parents, who represent 12 children, named multiple school, county and state officials as defendants.

Theodore Storer, the county's attorney, said the Allen County Department of Health and health commissioner should be dismissed from the lawsuit because the allegations aren't about specific county policies or actions other than the allegations that school officials relied on county guidance.

That's part of the problem, Mitchell said.

“No one wants to take ownership of these policies,” he said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb required mask-wearing in all K-12 schools last academic year, but masking decisions have been up to local school boards since Holcomb's order expired June 30.

The school defendants are NACS; Superintendent Chris Himsel; Tanya Pickett, an assistant principal; the board of trustees; and board members Elizabeth Hathaway, Kristi Schlatter and Ronald Felger. Felger attended Wednesday's hearing.

The parents believe COVID-19 policies violate their rights. They also have asserted masks are medical treatment; they have questioned NACS' denial of religious exemptions to the mask mandate; and they have accused the district of violating the vaccine passport ban because quarantine rules are different for vaccinated students.

Mark Scudder, who represents the school defendants, disputed the claims, at times by citing legal precedent. The plaintiffs want to argue the merits of COVID-19 policies, Scudder said, but the case hinges on narrow legal claims.

Avery said he will take the motions under advisement and issue an opinion later.

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