KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The mother of a special needs child in the Blue Valley School District allege that the district allowing a COVID-19 state education policy to lapse, and encouraging students who aren’t vaccinated against the virus to wear masks, “eviscerates” the family’s right to provide informed consent.
The lawsuit, filed June 4 in Johnson County District Court and naming the school district, its Board of Education members and Superintendent Tonya Merrigan, stated that Blue Valley has not voted to rescind or modify the Kansas State Department of Education's gating criteria – but said in a May 28 email to families and on the district website that it had expired.
“As a result, the district no longer has a policy in place related to COVID-19 and would like staff and families to be aware of the following updates that begin June 1, 2021, and will continue throughout the 2021-2022 school year,” the notice stated.
The update included not mandating masks, but “highly” encouraging them in district buildings for those who are unvaccinated; making masks optional for vaccinated individuals; and making masks optional for outdoor activities.
“Despite specifically stating it was an ‘update’ to its COVID-19 policy, and providing an effective date period with specific conditions, Blue Valley then falsely claims ‘it no longer has a policy in place related to COVID-19,” the petition stated.
The school district, in its response to the petition, said the state's “Navigating Change” policy “explicitly contemplated that it would be in place only for the 2020-21 school year” and that the board hasn’t taken any actions to suggest disagreement with the expiration.
Because COVID-19 vaccines currently are only authorized for emergency use, the petition states, that Terri Baker and her son, Sylas Baker, have “a right to obtain and exercise informed consent regarding Sylas being vaccine injected or in wearing a mask” and that the terms outlined in the email require the Bakers to provide consent for a “non-FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine as a condition for school attendance by Sylas without a mask.”
“The May 28th email eviscerates Terri’s right to provide informed consent and to otherwise exercise her religion and her right to parent Sylas according to those religious values,” the petition stated.
But the district argued that it has not made any such requirements, calling the Bakers’ position a “frivolous, bad faith reading” of the May announcement.
“By its very terms, the May 28 announcement removed the requirement for students to wear face masks at school, regardless of their vaccination status,” the district said in its response.
The Bakers also alleged that the board of education didn’t provide a mandatory Senate Bill 40 hearing within 72 hours of a request, and that it violated board policy with the updates announced in the May email. S.B.40 allows parents or guardians, students and employees to file grievances challenging orders mandated by the district on district property.
“There is no evidence that the board has modified the adoption of the Navigating Change policy adopted August 18th or its published policy 3113.2 through a proper public meeting and vote,” the petition alleged.
However, in its response, Blue Valley stated that because the district had already lifted its mask mandate, it had no rules in place that subjected it to a hearing under the bill.
“The bottom line is rather than instituting a new COVID-related order or policy, Blue Valley allowed the existing mask mandate to expire and did not replace it with any other such order or policy,” the district said in its response. “Blue Valley merely encourages unvaccinated people to wear masks going forward. Blue Valley’s encouragement that people show some modicum of empathy for the health of others imposes no restriction on anyone.”
The Bakers also filed a petition for a temporary restraining order regarding the updates to its COVID-19 guidelines, again alleging there is “no evidence” the school board enacted the update.
Terri Baker had previously sued the district over its mask mandate.