KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Northland parent group, the Northland Parent Association, has filed a federal lawsuit against several school districts, school boards and municipalities because of their mask requirements for children.
The leaders of the group told KSHB 41 News they want their voices heard.
"As parents, we were not being heard by the school boards," said Jay Richmond, who has three sons in North Kansas City Schools. "We have shown up and spoke at and provided evidence over the last several months going all the way back to March, basically about masks."
The goal of the lawsuit, according to parents, is to end mandates and let each family choose what's right for their children.
"To be able to have parents' rights, we want to be able to choose whether to send our kids in masks or not," parent Julie Bell said. "We’re not against it. We’re not saying that they have to totally go out the door; we just need to be able to have rights, like my body my choice."
The lawsuit was filed based on several claims, including that COVID-19 is often not severe in children; that children do not spread the virus at as high a rate as adults; that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson ended the state of emergency; that masks "offer a false sense of security" and do not provide adequate protection; and that masks can harm children.
Several of the claims have been disputed by local doctors and infectious disease experts.
University of Kansas Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Stites said previously that masks do not pose a risk to children's health, and that there is proven efficacy that they can mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Angela Myers, division director of infectious diseases at Children's Mercy, echoed those sentiments.
“What I can say is that wearing a mask prevents the spread of disease and it’s even more important than being distanced, which is why the CDC wrote their guidance the way they did,” Myers said during media availability in July.
Other parents in the Northland believe masks should be required, like Stefanie Hughes, who also a nurse.
"I feel like the safety aspect of it is, I would rather my child, like even my grandchild, wear a mask," Hughes said.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt also has filed a lawsuit regarding masks in schools, which caused concern for doctors.
Kansas and Missouri schools, both with and without mask requirements, have documented COVID-19 cases among students.
However, the parent association's lawsuit alleges that in some schools with mask requirements, the ground for those requirements is "unsupported by substantial evidence that mandating masks to be worn by all persons subject to the mask mandate would substantially reduce COVID-19 numbers and significantly prevent COVID-19 transmission in the community, or that only recommending masks (but letting students and families choose) would substantially increase COVID-19 numbers."
Among those named in the suit are Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas; North Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Bryant DeLong; the Smithville R-II School District; the Platte County R-III School District; the Park Hill School District; North Kansas City Schools; the Liberty 53 School District; the Kearney R-1 School District and the Excelsior Springs School District.
Lucas responded to the lawsuit in a press release, stating that the Kansas City mask mandate will help keep people safe.
“As it has been since the onset of this pandemic, my primary objective when it comes to Kansas City’s COVID-19 response is to save lives," Lucas said in the release. "No lawsuit will change that. Still, I’m saddened to see yet another lawsuit filed today over masking without merit under Missouri law — just like the suits filed against us before, including the Missouri Attorney General’s own politically-motivated stunt. The city has crafted each set of COVID-19 guidelines based on clear, data-driven advice from health and scientific leaders from the White House and CDC down to our health department."
North Kansas City said in a statement to KSHB 41 News that officials "are unable to comment on active litigation matters."
Other school districts named in the suit provided the following statements to KSHB 41 News:
North Kansas City School District:
In North Kansas City Schools, providing a safe learning environment for our more than 21,000 students and 3,500 staff is our top priority. Due in large part to the district’s safety efforts, our students, staff, and families enjoyed an excellent first week of school. Learners arrived to our campuses excited to return to in-person learning and ready for a great year ahead.
North Kansas City Schools will not comment on pending litigation, but will affirm our commitment to do what is recommended to keep our students, staff and community safe. Along with many other school districts across Missouri and the United States, decisions are being made based on what is needed in the community at that given time. North Kansas City Schools’ decisions are made in direct response to guidance and recommendations from local, state and national health experts. We will continue this practice with the goal of keeping students in-person to the greatest degree possible.
Park Hill School District:
We learned about this lawsuit in the Park Hill School District from the media, and we have not yet received any legal notice of it. We will carefully review it with our legal counsel.
Liberty 53 School District:
The priority for LPS has been to provide five days per week of in-person learning opportunities for all students choosing this mode of learning in a healthy and safe environment. Following the first week of school, it is evident that COVID-19 remains in our community as we have seen positive cases within our schools. We appreciate the efforts of our entire team to make these learning opportunities possible for our students. Finally, it is also important to note that we would already have a significantly higher number of students and staff quarantined if mask requirements were not currently in place as we follow COVID-19 policies and procedures set forth by federal and local health officials.
Smithville R-II School District:
At this time, we are aware that a lawsuit has been filed but we have not been served. Once we receive the official document, we will review it with our legal counsel and respond accordingly.
Kansas City's mask mandate is currently set to last until Sept. 23.
The Northland Parent Association was created on Aug. 18 and is a nonprofit based in Clay County, according to the suit.